Archive for February 25, 2012

Family Identity: You Get What You Give

I just finished reading a section of Compassion (Nouwen, McNeill, and Morrison) in which the authors offered an interesting reflection on self-image. They believe that competition forms the basis of our self-image and motivation in our current society. Ask school officials, coaches, bosses, or media reporters what defines a person and they will likely say that “you are the difference you make.” We define ourselves by our differences, our distinctions…those things that others recognize and honor or reject and dislike; those things that make us different and distinct from others. Our self-image, in other words, is shaped by how we compare to others. Unfortunately, this also creates distance between people and competition among friends and family for recognition.
The authors go on to offer an alternative basis for self-image: compassion. When compassion forms our self-image, our identity becomes based on what we receive from others rather than how we compare to others. I like that idea. I think our identity is based on what we receive from others, especially what we receive from family. Consider what we receive from family and how it impacts our identity. On the one hand,
If we receive anger, we become angry and defensive.
If we receive ridicule, we become sarcastic and rude.
If we receive conditional acceptance, we become competitive and insecure.
If we receive constant comparisons, we become competitive and jealous.
If we receive harsh treatment, we become harsh.
If we receive inconsistent attention, we become attention seeking.
If we receive disrespect, we become disrespectful.
If we receive everything we want, we become entitled.
On the other hand,
If we receive love, we become lovable.
If we receive grace, we become gracious.
If we receive encouragement, we become encouragers.
If we receive unconditional acceptance, we become accepting and secure.
If we receive loving praise, we become persistent.
If we receive support, we become supportive.
If we receive empathy, we become empathetic.
If we receive respect, we become respectful.
If we receive loving discipline, we become self-disciplined.
That leads to a very important question: what does your family receive from you? After all, what they receive, they become.

6 Ingredients to Satisfy Your Children’s Hunger for Security

Do you know what children hunger for most? Security—the kind that flows from relationship. More than anything, children want to know they are secure in their parents’ love and affection. They long to know the security of unconditional acceptance in their parents’ lives. If this hunger goes unsatisfied, children remain restless. They go on the prowl, constantly on the lookout for a relationship that provides acceptance, love, and affection. They will search through the cupboards of community, school, peer groups, and social clubs to find it; and most likely “find it in all the wrong places.” In their restless search, they will struggle with feelings of insignificance, find themselves taken advantage of, and still come up hungry for the security that only a family can provide. How can you satisfy this hunger for security that drives your children? Let me suggest 6 ingredients to satisfy your children’s hunger for security.
     1.      Listen. Don’t lecture. Don’t jump in to solve the problem. Listen. Listen with your ears to hear the words and their tone of voice to hear the emotion. Take time to not only understand what they say but what they mean as well. Listen with your eyes. Observe their facial expression and body so you can better understand the emotion behind the words. Finally, listen with your actions as you respond to the need expressed. If they express a need for assistance, assist them. If they express a need to be heard, hear them. If they express a need for acknowledgement, offer praise and congratulations.
    2.      Catch ’em in the act…of doing something good. When you do, give voice to your pride. Let them hear the words, “I’m proud of you.” Express your pride in private and in public. You can speak your words of pride or write them in a note. Either way, let them know that you are proud of the person they have become, the effort they put forth, the growth you observe, the positive behavior they engage in, and the good decisions they have made. Even Jesus received the praise of His Father. Take the time to acknowledge your children’s good behavior.
     3.      Offer consistent discipline. Consistency in discipline requires that we acknowledge positive behavior and correct inappropriate behavior. Remaining consistent means we care enough to bring out the very best in our children. We nurture and reveal their “natural bent,” their God-given strengths, abilities, and personality. As we remain consistent in teaching and shaping their godly character, they come to know us as steady. They also learn that their misbehavior does not overwhelm us. We, as parents, remain patient, loving, and strong in the face of their misbehavior, guiding them toward a lifestyle that will bring greater happiness and fulfillment. This knowledge helps them grow secure in our love and affection, even in the midst of misbehavior and loving discipline.    
     4.      Build routines into your family life. Routines build a level of predictability into family life that provides a sense of security and stability for our children. It allows our children to anticipate “what comes next” and to relax in the knowledge that certain things happen on a regular basis. They come to know that Mom and Dad may leave for work or the store, but they always return. They look forward to regular family mealtimes and the interactions that accompany those meals. They grow in the stability of a regular bedtime and the benefits of rest. As families practice morning routines, mealtime routines, bedtime routines, and various family traditions, children develop an identity and stability that promotes security.   
     5.      Pour on the affection. Let your children know you love and value them. Show your affection with a hug, a good night kiss, a high five, a squeeze of the shoulders. Pour on affectionate words of admiration and love by saying, “I love you” before bed or as you leave the house for work. Satisfy their need for affection by remaining true to your word and keeping your promises. Spice up the flavor of affection with unconditional acceptance…even when your children are moody, grumpy, or irritable.
     6.      Finally, give your children your time. Adding in the ingredients described above will demand your time. Give it freely. Children determine what is most valuable in your life by watching where you invest your time. Let them see you investing your time in your family and, specifically, in their lives.
6 ingredients that, when mixed together, will satisfy your child’s hunger for security—the meat and potatoes of security. Perhaps you can add in some dessert. Enjoy!

3 Parenting Skills to End Sibling Conflict

“Help. All my kids do is fight. There is constant conflict. What can I do?” If that sounds like your house, learn to R.A.P. No, I am not talking about learning to speak rhythmically against a background of rhythm instruments while practicing hip hop moves. My children would die of embarrassment if I tried. No, I’m not talking about a musical rap; I’m talking about three parenting skills that can reduce rivalry, competition, and jealousy between your child and their siblings or their peers. The acronym R.A.P. might help us remember these three skills. Let’s look at each one and see how they can help reduce conflict in the home.
  • Recognize each child’s unique contribution to your family and the world. Every child has unique strengths and abilities. Take time to notice those strengths and abilities. Notice what they do well. Pay attention to what brings them joy. Add those things that bring joy to your child into your interactions with him. Take time to notice what troubles your child as well. Observe what circumstances increase their stress. Help protect them from those situations that trouble them by teaching them coping skills, standing by them to resolve conflicts, or making appropriate changes. Recognize and acknowledge the actions, words, and behaviors that you admire in your child. 
  • Accept your child just as they are. Appreciate them for their unique personality. Acceptance and appreciation build a sense of security in your child. This sense of security promotes honesty as opposed to rivalry. Appreciating each child also gives them a sense of significance. It teaches them that their efforts make a difference; their actions in this world are meaningful. Remember, in order to truly feel appreciated, your child must first know you accept them. Without acceptance, verbal appreciation may come across as manipulation. Also don’t forget to appreciate effort above accomplishment. Let your children know that you accept them whether they successfully accomplish the goal or not. Accept them for who they are and acknowledge that their effort has an impact.
  • Peace keeper: work to maintain peace in your child’s world. Resolve conflicts and differences between your child and yourself. Teach your child to resolve conflicts with his or her siblings. Encourage your child to resolve conflicts and differences they have with peers. Peace-keeping demands that you model and teach negotiation skills, communication skills, and the ability to compromise. To the extent that you model peace-keeping and resolve conflicts, your child will experience an inner calm that allows them to learn and grow. Without peaceful relationships and calm resolution skills, you will find your child’s mind spinning, confused, and distracted. Do all you can to live at peace with one another.
Well, that’s a “R.A.P.” –three crucial parenting skills to reduce family conflict: recognize each child, accept each child, and strive to maintain peace. Practicing them is more difficult than writing about them. In fact, we all make mistakes and fall well short of perfection from time to time. But, practice makes perfect…well, practice results in improvement. At any rate, as you practice these roles you will find that fighting decreases and affection increases (in spite of our occasional mistakes)…and that is worth the “R.A.P.”  

The End of the Family Argument

I had one of those conversations yesterday. You know what I mean…one that ends in an argument and, when all is said and done, you’re not real sure what the fight was about. Half way into yesterday’s argument I thought, “We agree. Why are we fighting?” Even so, I continued to stress my point and my daughter continued to stress her point. I felt like the mother and daughter in this cell-phone commercial (click here to view) arguing with harsh statements of love. We both walked away frustrated and angry. Other than that, we accomplished nothing. It did make me think though…. How does this happen? And, more importantly, how can I prevent it from happening again?
First (and perhaps the hardest for me to learn), to prevent this from happening again I need to learn how to shut up and listen. We often get into these arguments when one of us believes he has something more important to say than the other person. If you find “yourself repeating yourself” time and time again, perhaps you are in this position. Step back, shut up, and listen…even if you have information of great importance and significance, “shut the mouth and open the ears.” Listen, don’t talk. Listening is the key. Listen to understand what the other person means. Repeat what you believe they mean to make sure you understand. Don’t even think about responding until the other person knows you understand them.
Second, look at the other person. I don’t mean to simply look in their direction. Slow down, soften your gaze, and really see them. What expression is on their face? Do they look angry, frustrated, tired, confused, thoughtful, sad, or hurt? Take time to see their expression. Let that expression sink in. Allow yourself to empathize, to feel their emotion. Respond to that emotion. Apologize if they look angry. Offer comfort if they look hurt. Assure them that you did not intend to arouse negative emotion in them. Gottman calls such statements “repair statements” because they go a long way in repairing the conversation and the relationship. Slow down, look at the other person and gently respond to what you see.
Third, apologize when you mess up. Let’s face it, we all have moments when we end up arguing for no good reason. Maybe you felt a need to save face or prove the other person wrong. Or, maybe you felt so passionate about the topic that you quit listening and said something you feel now regret. Accept responsibility for your actions. Take the time to apologize. Doing so communicates how much you value the other person and your relationship with them. In addition, it moves you one step closer to avoiding the same mistake the next time.
Come to think of it, this all started with me trying to prove my point (a very important point, I might add) to my daughter.  I think I’ll go apologize now and find out what she was really trying to say. Happy talking!

Slaying the Monsters in Your Child’s Life

Every day our children battle dragons and other mythical monsters. Boggarts, shape-shifters that assume the form of a child’s greatest fears and insecurities, dance in your children’s minds. They tower over your children, taking the form of personal failure, overwhelming schedules, rejecting peers, family instability, financial woes, or even death of a friend. Boggarts appear larger than life. They leave a child feeling inadequate and unable to deal with the towering fear that has taken shape in his or her mind.
Your child may also battle the giant bully monster. This giant monster towers over a child with bulging muscles, red anger-filled eyes, a forked tongue of ridicule and threats, and fists that can pulverize your child’s personal strength. Your child may encounter the giant bully monster in the community, in school, or on-line. This monster threatens your child’s confidence and can send them reeling into the legendary pit of emotional darkness, depression, and despair.
The most frightening monster of all may live right in your own home. That’s right…the two-headed-fighting-parents-monster can appear right in your living room and wreak havoc in your family’s castle. Although connected to the same body, the two heads of this monster agree on nothing. They constantly fight, call one another names, and verbally abuse each other. Because this monster resides in the home, it creates an atmosphere of insecurity for your child. As long as the two heads continue to yell, scream, and argue, your child will never feel safe. In addition, their loyalty to both heads will tear them apart, potentially leaving their heart torn to shreds.
Parents can help children slay these monsters. They serve as the protector and provider, the knight in shining armor rescuing their children from these monsters…even as they attack. How do we slay the monsters in our children’s lives? Here are three strategies that other parent-knights have found effective.
     ·         Remain present in your children’s lives. Stand with them…be physically, verbally, and emotionally present in their lives. Let them see you in the community, in the school, and in the home. Make your presence known to them in their technology. Text them. Email them. Call them. Friend them on Facebook. Establish a precedent from the very beginning that you, as a parent, have access to their Facebook, phone, and any other technological device so you can monitor what happens there. Assure them that you monitor these devices for their protection. Even offer examples of people who have encountered the giant bully monster and boggarts on-line. You are there to protect them from those monsters, even on-line. Let your children know they do not have to face any monster in their life alone. You are always ready to help!
     ·         Tame the two-headed-fighting-parents monster. Work with your spouse (the other head) to resolve arguments as they arise. Let your children witness the resolution in your spoken apologies and affectionate interactions with one another. If your children witnessed the two-headed-fighting-parents monster at its worst, you might even explain to them how you resolved the argument and assure them that you love each other. Children grow best when they know their parents have a stable, loving relationship. Allow them to witness your love for one another in how you speak to, touch, and support one another. If you experience significant trouble taming the two-headed-fighting-parents monster, seek counseling. Don’t wait until both heads are beaten and abused. By that time, your child is feeling the devastation of the battle. Get help. Learn how to resolve your differences and tame the two-headed-fighting-parents monster.
     ·         Spend time talking with your children so you can learn about the boggarts they live with, the fears and insecurities that take shape in their mind. Be open to hear about these fears. Listen closely to understand the fear. Accept that this fear is a real concern for your child, not just some childish fantasy they’ll get over. Acknowledge the bravery they exhibit in facing their fears. Encourage them by helping them recall other times they have successfully overcome fears. And, problem-solve with them. This may include planning ahead, breaking the boggart into smaller parts and tackling one issue at a time, identifying more resources, or any number of other solutions. By listening, acknowledging, encouraging, and problem-solving, you teach your child the skills necessary to slay any boggarts that arise in their life.
As you help slay the monsters in your children’s lives, they will be able to rest and relax in your home. They will rest in the assurance that you, their protector and provider, have made their home a safe haven in which they can find peace.

Top 4 Times for Parent-Child Talks

SHH…I have a secret. I have to tell you this secret because it could revolutionize your relationship with your children. This part is no secret, but—children encounter little aggravations and hassles all day long. We all know that! These hassles are like little lake flies buzzing around their head or little parasites trying to burrow into their lives. To you and me, the aggravations and hassles they experience seem like small fries…no big deal. To our children, however, these daily hassles rise up before their eyes like insurmountable waves about to crash down on their heads. Why? Because they have not yet gained the experience necessary to deal with these hassles. They have not developed the coping skills necessary to manage these daily aggravations. As a result, they need us to help them cope with them, and, in the process, teach them how to handle them on their own. So, here is the secret…a secret that can empower you to help your child grow. Ready for the secret? Certain times of the day provide more opportunity for you to help your child handle daily hassles. Don’t tell your kids…it’s a secret….But, here are the top 4 times to help your children handle daily hassles:
Number four: The first thing in the morning. When your children wake up in the morning is actually an excellent time to help prepare them for the daily hassles. The first thing in the morning is when you set the tone for the day. Each morning, prime your children for a positive day by checking in with them, finding out about their day, and helping them manage their schedule.  Meet them “where they are” (some people just are not morning people), enjoy a pleasant conversation, share a simple breakfast, and express affection for them. A simple hug and an “I love you,” an “I’ll be thinking about you today,” or “I’m proud of you” can work wonders in getting anyone’s day off to a good start. And a day that starts off well seems to go better as well, hassles seem less significant after starting the day with pleasant conversation and a hug.
Number three: In the car is a great time to help children learn to deal with daily hassles. This is a tremendous time to model how you deal with daily hassles (I wish this was not true, because I hate traffic!). In addition, children often begin to talk about their day and various aggravations or troubles when they are “stuck in a car” with you during a trip to a friend’s house, the store, or practice. Allow them to bring up the subject and listen. Don’t jump to give advice, just listen. After you have listened, empathize. Let them experience your attempt to understand how they feel as well as what they say. Then…after you understand and fully empathize…then, you can problem solve with them.
Number two: Family meal time offers the whole family an opportunity to talk about the day. Family members can share joys and laughter as well as what they found frustrating or aggravating throughout the day. Rejoice in your children’s successes and share in their frustrations. Let them tell you about the “mean teacher” without offering an explanation of the teacher’s actions. Let them express their anger about a decision you made…without jumping to your own defense. Simply understand their frustration. Listen. Once you understand their feelings about the situation, ask them what could have made the situation better. As they offer an explanation, listen.  You’ll learn a lot about your children as you listen. Then, you can problem solve with them to build ways of dealing with similar situations in the future.
And the number one time to talk with your child about daily hassles and aggravations: during the bedtime routine. The last moments of the day arguably offer the best time to resolve differences, talk through frustrations, and reconnect in a loving way. Take time to reflect on the joys of the day as well as resolving daily frustrations. Make the last time of the day a time to connect and understand your child. Allow them to experience your unfailing affection for them as the day draws to an end. This will enable them to fall asleep bathed in your understanding, secure in your love, and floating peacefully into their dreams.
Taking advantage of these four opportunities to talk with your child about daily hassles and how to manage them will enable your child to feel rest in your home and more intimate with you.

The Best Valentine’s Gift Ever

Valentine’s Day approaches and couples everywhere busily search for the perfect gift. Perhaps you have considered jewelry, hotel getaways, singing cards, romantic dinners, or funny knick knacks to make your spouse laugh. Let me suggest that you give the best Valentine’s gift ever. (Don’t worry; no pressure.) Although this sounds like a bold statement, I believe you truly can give the best Valentine’s gift ever. It will not cost you much financially, but it will save you tens of thousands of dollars. More importantly, it will bring you more long-term joy than you can imagine. What is the best Valentine’s gift ever? A “3-step promise of commitment.” “What? Wait a second. My wife knows I’m committed. She will not thrill at the promise of commitment.” I think she will (and for you women, so will he). Read through the “3-step promise of commitment” and judge for yourself.
  •  Step One: Write a certificate of commitment to your spouse. You most likely made vows of commitment during your wedding ceremony. That’s OK. For Valentine’s Day, rewrite those vows (even add to them) based on the experience and knowledge you have gained during your time married. Recommit to “stick with your spouse” through thick and thin, health and sickness, aging bodies, aging minds, good times and bad, joyous occasions and times of deep sorrow, times of complete agreement and times of passionate disagreement, times of great gain and times of painful loss. Put it in writing—not long, no more than the front side of one page. Make it neat and official-looking. Laminate it and read it to your spouse over dinner…maybe even in front of your kids, extended family, or friends. Let everyone know that you remain committed to your spouse and are determined to maintain that commitment for the rest of your life.
  • Step Two: Commit to build intimacy by having no less than 20-30 minutes of meaningful conversation a day with your spouse. The average married couple in the US only spends 4 minutes a day in meaningful conversation. Commit to change this in your marriage. Commit to build intimacy through meaningful conversation. You can meet over a cup of coffee, breakfast, or while taking a walk. Talk about the news, daily activities, movies, books, spiritual insights gained, or interactions you had with someone while away from your spouse. Go even deeper by discussing the emotions, good and bad, that these experiences aroused in you. Converse like you did while dating by 1-remaining curious about what your spouse is thinking and feeling and 2-accepting your spouse’s ideas and opinions as important and valid. This daily commitment will lead to deeper intimacy with your spouse.
  • Step Three: Commit to meeting your spouse’s needs and desires on a daily basis. Make meeting your spouse’s needs and desire a top priority in your life. Remember what excites your spouse, the little things that interest her, the love language that speaks to her most profoundly, and the nuanced vulnerabilities that you can protect. Commit to keeping your spouse foremost in your heart and mind, number one in your life. This may mean doing little things like the dishes now and again or big things like coming home from work early on a regular basis.
“Wait a minute. This gift is not worth anything!” Actually, considering the average financial cost of divorce, this gift is worth at least $20,000. That figure does not even come close to the value of emotional intimacy you and your spouse will gain. It does not even touch the value of watching your children blossom in response to the “3-step promise of commitment” you share with their other parent. And, if you don’t mind me saying, the “3-step promise of commitment” will have a profound (and pleasurable) impact on the passion and physical intimacy in your marriage. After all, studies suggest that long-term married couples have the most satisfying sex life…they know one another, they know what makes the other person happy, and they are committed to satisfying and pleasing their spouse. Just imagine: dinner and a night in a hotel-$200; a 1/4 CT TW diamond necklace-$750, a “3-step promise of commitment”-priceless…and growing more valuable every day you practice it. Really, the “3-step promise of commitment” is the best Valentine’s gift ever!