Archive for May 26, 2012

Give Your Child the Gift of a Lifetime

One of the best gifts we can give our children is the ability to bounce back from failure, to overcome adversity, and to remain persistent in the face of disappointment. In a word, giving the gift of resiliency can impact a child’s life forever! What does a child need to develop resiliency? Here are some ideas.
     ·         Resiliency begins with close family ties. Resilient children feel secure in their family relationships. They feel accepted and valued by their family. Even though they may express some interests different than their family, they know that family members accept them and cherish them. Take time for your children. Learn about their interests and abilities. Show an interest in what they think and do.

·         Resilient children develop a sense of competence. Parents can help their children develop a sense of competence by accepting their strengths and giving them opportunities to develop those strengths. If they like music, give them opportunities to play or sing. If they like sports, get them involved in athletic activities. If they like to cook or draw or do scientific experiments, seek out opportunities for them to meet people with similar interests and become involved in related activities. Keep these activities fun. Do not push them beyond their desire. Let them guide the intensity of their involvement.

·         Resilient children have a healthy self-confidence. Interestingly, confidence grows when we overcome obstacles and persevere in spite of difficulties and disappointments. Confidence grows when we learn to view adversity, struggle, and even failure as information about how to improve. Allow your child to experience disappointments and setbacks. Encourage them in their struggle to overcome those setbacks. Express confidence in their abilities to do so. Encourage their effort and point out specific areas in which you see improvement.

·         Resilient children develop a strong moral character. They learn right from wrong and recognize the consequences of both. They develop compassion for others and practice kindness toward others. Resilient children learn that a life of honesty and integrity is not always easy, but always best. When your child does something wrong, do not bail them out. Allow them to suffer the consequences of their misbehavior. Trust that they can and will learn from those consequences to behave better in the future.

·         Resilient children know that they make a unique and needed contribution to the world around them. God has endowed each child with a unique purpose. It may or may not be a visible to others; but, it is a vital purpose nonetheless. You can help your children discover their purpose in several ways. Provide opportunities to serve others. Help your children understand that many people in the world struggle to obtain basic life necessities. Provide opportunities to participate in volunteer work. Provide opportunities for your children to contribute to maintaining your home. All of these activities and more can help a child learn that they make an important contribution to our world.

·         Resilient children cope effectively with stress. They learn to view challenges as opportunities for growth. Children learn effective coping skills by watching their parents; so, learn to practice and model good coping skills yourself. You can not only model effective coping skills, but you can coach your child in practicing those skills as well. Childhood and adolescence are filled with opportunities to learn coping skills.
Resilient children bounce back from failure, overcome adversity, and remain persistent in the face of disappointment. They thrive, even in the midst of difficulties. The most important ingredient in helping your child develop resiliency is you! Your active presence in their life, your loving affection, your healthy modeling, and your unconditional acceptance will give your children the wonderful gift of resiliency!

The Avengers, Jesus, & Family

What do the Avengers, Jesus, and family have in common? Two things. First, they take action…lots of action. What would the Avengers be without action? They are, after all, “action heroes.” When the Avengers were not involved in action, the enemy seemed to gain strength. They had to take action in order to weaken and destroy the enemy. Jesus was also a man of action. He took the initiative to come to earth and serve. He was actively involved in the creation of the world and He actively engaged all spheres of life during His human journey on earth. Now, He remains actively involved in the world through His Holy Spirit. I recently read Brennan Manning’s A Glimpse of Jesus. In one chapter, Manning states that Jesus “calls us not to fear but to action. Procrastination only prolongs self-hatred.” Jesus was, and is, a Man of great action. 
Second thing the Avengers and Jesus have in common? They do not act alone. Instead, they act “in one accord.” The Avengers had to “act in one accord” with one another in order to have success. They could not just look out for their own personal interests and neglect everyone else. That led to arguing, one-upmanship, suspicions, group weakness, and vulnerability. They needed one another; they needed to work together in order to accomplish the goal set before them. Jesus did not act alone either. He acted in accordance with His Father. He did what His Father was doing, said was His Father was saying, and went where His Father directed. Jesus also picked 12 men to work with Him during His earthly ministry. These 12 men helped feed the five thousand, prepare the upper room, and even proclaim the kingdom of God. Jesus still wants His people to “act in one accord” with Him and one another. We are told to “not look out for our own personal interests but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). We are to encourage one another, lift one another up, comfort one another and admonish one another. We are to act together.
The Avengers and Jesus are both people of action. They had to work together to find success. What does that have to do with the family? Do I need to say it? I can’t hold back…I have to say it. Creating an intentional family demands that we take action and that we “act in one accord.” If we want our families to grow healthier and more intimate, we need to take action. Start doing the work to create a healthier family today. Take action. Do not procrastinate…that could lead to disaster, feelings of insecurity, and even self-hatred. Do not get sidetracked and distracted from action by dwelling on disagreements and petty jealousies…that will surely lead to disaster. Instead, start doing the little things that bring health to a family. Become a person of action in your family today. Initiate the action of encouraging family members, saying “thank-you” to family members, and engaging in courteous behaviors like holding a door open or getting a family member a drink.
And, while you are taking action, remember that healthy families act together. They do not just look out for their own personal interests–that leads to arguments, one-upmanship, suspicions, family weakness, and vulnerability. Instead, look out for the interests of other family members. Give up that last cookie and let another family member have it. Give up fighting to be “first in the shower” and let your brother go first. Volunteer to clear the table or wash the dishes or help with the laundry or…well, you know. The list of actions you can take to strengthen your family goes on. Reach out in love to actively support, encourage, comfort, and forgive one another. The actions of love done in “one accord” will take your family to new heights of intimacy and joy. Start today!

Building Trust in Family Relationships

Have you ever wondered how to build trust in your family relationships? The Gottman Institute suggests five ways to build trust with your spouse. I believe those same five suggestions can build trust within your family. I have to warn you though…these suggestions appear small, even insignificant on the surface. They do not call for any flourishing gesture or dramatic, flamboyant action that suddenly creates a deep bond of trust between family members. There is no magic pill for building trust. No, these suggestions are subtle, but powerful, actions and attitudes that, when practiced daily, have a profound impact on trust in a family. Let me share each suggestion along with a brief explanation.
     ·         Make trustworthiness a priority in your relationship. As with all relationship building principles, start with yourself. Make it a priority to become a trustworthy person, a person others can trust. Develop your reputation as a person of honesty, integrity, and reliability. Follow through on your promises. Make your word “as good as gold.” Remain reliable in your actions and your affections. Live a lifestyle that is consistent with your honest speech. To develop a trusting relationship, become a trustworthy person.

·         Act to maximize each of your family members’ well-being. Do not look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of your spouse and family. Be considerate of their needs and desires. Look to increase their sense of security in relationship to you. Spend time with them. Discover their interests and create opportunities for them to grow in those areas of interest. Encourage their strengths. Become their Michelangelo—the person who brings out their best and encourages them to grow stronger in their “true self” every day.

·         Realize that trust is built and strengthened by small positive moments. You do not have to create the big, dramatic event to build trust or precious memories. The small, enjoyable, and positive moments build the greatest memories and the most enduring trust. Share little adventures. Play together. Show empathy. Learn things together. Share meals. Laugh together. Go for walks. When the negative emotions associated with disagreements and minor conflicts arise, you will have built a foundation that allows you to tune into the other person and share yourself. As you share yourself during conflict and then resolve conflict, trust grows exponentially.

·         Avoid negative comparisons. Comparisons contaminate trusting relationships. They cause trust to decay, create doubt about my value in the other person’s eyes, and diminish my sense of being accepted unconditionally. Comparisons create competition, bitterness, and resentment. Instead of comparing family members, practice unconditional acceptance. Each person has their own unique personality, strengths, and interests. Accept each person’s uniqueness, their own “bent.” Acknowledge that uniqueness and discover how those unique attributes contribute to their happiness, strengthen your family, and supplies a needed resource to those around them.

·         Cherish each of your family members’ positive qualities. Actively seek out the positive qualities and characteristics that you admire in your family members. Acknowledge those positive traits. Even when family members do things that you find irritating, step back and look for the positive aspect of that behavior or action. Then, take time to acknowledge that positive quality before discussing ways you can both work to reduce the irritation. Acknowledge positive attributes in each family member every day. Nurture a daily practice of gratitude for everything your family members provide and offer to you, to your relationship, and to your family. Keep your focus on what you admire in your family.
Five suggestions for building trust in family relationships. Nothing dramatic or hard-core, just small actions and words that, when practiced daily, result in growing trust.

Teaching Your Child Perspective Taking

Children are not born with the ability to see the world through another person’s eyes. They have to learn to take another person’s perspective. If they do not learn this, they grow intolerant, self-centered, and uncaring. How can a parent help their children develop the ability to see various situations from another person’s perspective? Here are 4 suggestions:
  • Model perspective taking in your life. Begin by modeling perspective taking in your relationship with your child. Take the time to see things from your child’s perspective. Allow your child to explain his point of view and then accept that point of view. His point of view may sound magical or immature–after all, he is a child. You may even disagree with his perspective, but accept it before you discuss it. As your child matures, use everyday situations to point out other people’s perspectives. For instance, discuss how friends might perceive something your child said or did, how teachers might perceive various students’ behavior, or how siblings might view an event differently than he does. Let your child explore and express various ideas without judgment, especially in his teen years. Definitely add your ideas into the mix and express your perspective, but do so without judging the ideas and values that he expresses. 
  • Explore the perspective of fictional characters. Start reading stories with your children when they are young. As they mature, discuss stories that you both read. In particular, discuss the characters in the story and their perspective of the situations they encounter. Explore how the story characters might feel, what circumstances and thoughts contribute to those feelings, and what resources the characters might use to deal with those feelings. Help your child develop an understanding of how that character’s perspective contributes to their actions and emotions. You can do this with movie characters as well. Engaging in these talks allows your child to begin to explore the perspective of another person, even if it is a fictional story character. 
  • Have some fun with perspective taking. I often play a game of “Happy, Mad, & Sad” with children at work. It is like “Paper, Scissors, & Rock;” but, instead of using hand signals, we make a happy face, a mad face, or a sad face. I score by saying happy beats sad, sad beats mad, and mad beats happy. It does not really matter which emotion beats the others, only that you get to practice seeing the expression on one another’s face—an important skill for perspective taking. You can also enjoy some people watching in a mall or park. Observe people walking by and quietly make up little stories about the character’s life and emotions. Fill the story with supporting observations. For instance, “those two just met in the ice cream shop because they still have their cones. They are walking in step with one another and smiling when they look at one another, so they have fallen deeply in love”…or “they walk in step with one another because they are both marching band members and can no longer walk out of sync…” Play a game while driving in which you name as many reasons as possible for why a car sped by or why another driver cut you off in traffic. Make note that each reason is merely a guess and an assumption, but represents a possible perspective of the other person. And, the perspective we focus on can lead to our becoming angry (“that jerk did that on purpose”), compassionate (“I hope they are not running to an emergency”), or cautious (“did they just fall asleep and drift into my lane?”). Remember, there is often more than one possible reason for a person’s behavior, more than one possible perspective. Encourage your child to consider those perspectives, even if they do not agree with them.
  • Finally, as your child experiences various circumstances in life, talk to him about the perspective of others in that situation as well. When you witness a commotion in a restaurant, help them observe not just the commotion but how those around the commotion respond. After watching a close football game, observe the winning team’s demeanor and the losing team’s demeanor. Watch the interviews with both teams and talk about each person’s response. When your child has a fight with a sibling, help him observe the impact on his siblings and you.
That is just 4 ideas to help teach your child perspective taking. You can practice each idea in your daily life, without even looking like you are teaching anything! By helping your child grow in their ability to take another person’s perspective, they will grow more understanding, accepting, and considerate. They will show more empathy and compassion toward those around them. They will mature, growing into adults with a strong character!

The Investment Banker’s Wisdom for Families

This is one of those stories I wish I had thought of…but, I did not. “Anonymous” did. “Anonymous” has written some of the best stuff. Anyway, I want to share it with you because it reveals such great wisdom for the family. Invest in true riches today!
An investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna. The investment banker complimented the fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
The fisherman replied, “Only a little while.”
The investment banker then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish.
The fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.
The investment banker than asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
The fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, Senor.”
The investment banker scoffed, “I have a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats. Eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor and eventually opening your won cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You can leave this small coastal village and move to Mexico City, then LA, and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
“But Senor,” the fisherman asked, “How long will this all take?”
To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”
“But what then, Senor?”
The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions!”
“Millions, Senor? Then what?”
The American said, “Then you would retire, move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings to sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

Children, Perspective-Taking, & A Soccer Game

My wife and I were playing ball with our 3 1/2-year-old daughter. We rolled the ball, bounced the ball, threw the ball…you know the drill. At one point, my wife ran inside to do something. I suggested to my daughter that we “hide the ball from Mommy” and ask her to find it when she returned. With a twinkle in her eye, my daughter agreed to the new game. We carefully hid the ball and waited. As my wife approached, I asked my daughter where she thought her mother would look for the ball. With great confidence, she replied that Mommy would look right where the ball was hidden even though she had no way of knowing where we hid it. Why did my daughter (a bright 3 1/2-year-old girl) believe her mom would know where the ball was? Because children this age believe everyone thinks like them. They believe that everyone sees the world in the same way they see the world. If my daughter knew where the ball was hidden, so would her mother. She could not put herself in her mother’s shoes and see through her eyes. At this young age, there is only one way to see the world…my way!
Fortunately, my daughter has not stayed this way for life. Everyone needs to develop the ability to take another person’s perspective in order to build empathy, compassion, and consideration. But, learning perspective-taking does not happen overnight. Just consider the game of soccer. Imagine this scenario, a scenario that exemplifies the perspective-taking required to play a position and work together as a team. One player dribbles the ball down the field. 1) From his perspective, he sees the goal as well as the opponent between him and the goal. He observes his opponent react to his various moves; and… 2) from his opponents’ perspective, he notices himself fading left and begins to follow that lead. 3) From the goalie’s perspective, he “watches” himself moving toward the left side of the goal. 4) From his teammate’s perspective, he sees an open net as the goalie is hanging toward the left side of the net and his team mate is on the right. After quickly assessing the field from his own perspective as well as the perspective of his opponent, the goalie, and his teammate, he can choose whether to pass to his team mate or take a shot. A 5-year-old simply cannot do this. The 5-year-old can only see the field through his eyes and his eyes only…his own perspective. So, where does the team of 5-year-old players stand on the field?  They hover over the ball. They have only one perspective–that of them and the ball. One goal–kick the ball in the goal. They cannot understand the concept of playing a position or working as a team because they cannot see the game through the eyes anyone but themselves.
Even at 9-years-old a child has difficulty taking the kind of perspective needed to play a position and work naturally as a team. I recall one coach screaming at his team of 9-year-olds to “stay in position.” He spent the majority of the game yelling at his players to stay in position, but they kept “forgetting” and falling out of position to get the ball. These 9-year-old players were not being obstinate or disobedient. They were simply not developmentally ready to understand the benefit of remaining in position. Since they still could not consistently see things from another person’s point of view, they could not understand the benefit of playing a position. They will definitely learn from simple prompts to remain in position at this age. (I must add, though, that screaming at them is ineffective. In fact, screaming at children only scrambles their brains and decreases their ability to think calmly.) Zoom ahead and we find that the players at 10 or 11-years-old begin to “stay in position.” They work as a team because they can see the field through one another’s eyes, one another’s perspective. And, it only two 10 or 11 years! 
Fast forward just one more time to adolescence. The adolescent constantly sees herself through the eyes of others. She melts down in response to a “bad hair day” or a minor skin blemish on her face because “everyone will see it.” Suddenly, through the eyes of perspective taking on steroids, every minor flaw and small action takes on overwhelming impact…”everyone will notice,” “everyone will laugh.”
Why do I tell you all this? Why run through this little developmental storyline about learning to see the world through other people’s eyes? Because I need constant reminders to base my expectations for a child on their developmental ability. Perhaps you will benefit from this reminder as well. We cannot expect our 4-year-olds to understand another person’s point of view the same way our 16-year-old might. This is true when you think about perspective taking in sports, sharing, showing compassion, resolving disagreements, and even social interactions. Although we cannot demand more perspective taking than our child is developmentally able to give, we still want to teach them the benefits of seeing another person’s point of view and how to do so. After all, taking the time to see the world from another person’s perspective opens up the possibility for true empathy and compassion. It contributes to the ability to negotiate and compromise. It leads to consideration of others and acts of kindness that other people can truly appreciate. So, how do we build perspective taking abilities in our children? As they used to say at the end of Batman…”Tune in next time…same bat station…same bat time…” for 4 ways to promote perspective taking in your children.

5 Celebration Ideas for Mother’s Day

This year Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 13th. Maybe you already have a plan to honor your mother. But, in case you have not finalized you plans (or maybe you don’t have a clue), here are a few ideas to consider.
     ·         Get your mother a carnation. I know, it is simple and traditional… nonetheless, a good idea. Getting your mother a carnation for Mother’s Day traces its roots all the way back to the origin of Mother’s Day in the United States. Miss Ann Jarvis started this tradition on May 10, 1908. She sent 500 white carnations to the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church to be distributed to the mothers. She sent carnations in memory of her own mother, who held the white carnation as her favorite flower. Ms. Jarvis noted that the carnation symbolized the “virtues of motherhood;…whiteness stands for purity; its lasting qualities, faithfulness; its fragrance, love; its wide field of growth, charity; its form, beauty….” Go ahead and send a carnation to your mother and attach a card describing what the carnation symbolizes. If you think a carnation just is not enough, send your mother a whole bouquet of flowers.

·         Get together with your family and honor your mother by sharing stories about the mothers and grandmothers in your family. As you share stories, look through family albums to find pictures of these women…women who helped shape your family and, ultimately, you. Make copies of these pictures and create a photo album of all the “Moms Who Paved the Way” in your family. Under each picture, write a short caption describing their character and contribution to the family.

·         Write a short testimonial to your mother. Think of 2-3 ways in which she enhanced your life…or 2-3 characteristics you admire about her…or 2-3 ways she contributed to your happiness. Write them into a short testimonial along with real life examples that support them. Try to limit the testimonial to one side of a sheet of paper. Then, over dinner on Mother’s Day, read her the testimonial. But, you might need to have some Kleenex available for the tears of appreciation and joy.

·         Create a handmade craft for your mother. You can make a handmade card or a handmade pennant that reads “Go Mom.” Create a sports card with her picture and stats on it for the sports loving mother. Stats might include “number of meals cooked,” “number of booboos cared for,” number of sorrows kissed good-bye,” etc. Or, you could make her an award for #1 Mom, a certificate of appreciation, or a gold medal necklace. 

·         One more idea…tried and true. Make your mother dinner. As a family, treat her like a guest in a fancy restaurant. Prepare her favorite dish and dessert. Seat her in the waiting area (living room) with her favorite reading material while you set the table–good dishes, candles, and all. Escort her to the table, pull out her chair, and seat her. Serve her and enjoy conversation while you eat. Maybe even share some fun stories about your life with her. Then, let her relax while you clear the table, wash the dishes, and clean up the kitchen.
What are some of your Mother’s Day ideas? Please share them in the comment section below so we can all honor our mother on Mother’s Day.  

3 Ways Parents Shape Their Children’s Mind

Children learn from everything their parents do and say. That is a bold and rather frightening statement; but, it is true. Parents cannot not teach, lead, and guide their children. Children are watching, listening, and learning from their parents every moment of every day. Children learn to show politeness, express gratitude, and practicing kindness by watching their parents do the same. Unfortunately, children also pick up language they hear their parents mumble under their breath in anger. They enact their parent’s most undesirable habits and practice them with little restraint. This constant learning extends beyond mere actions and words to include a child’s thought life as well. A parent’s words and actions influence how their children think about themselves, their abilities, their relationships. Think about that: a parent’s words and actions mold their children’s thought life which forms their children’s confidence, relationships, and self-concept…ultimately, their success. This is a huge responsibility. With the weight of that responsibility in mind, we, as parents and family shepherds, have to ask ourselves, “Do my words and actions instill beneficial, life-enhancing ways of thinking in my child or do they instill detrimental, hurtful patterns of thought in my child?” Here are 3 ways you, as your family’s shepherd, can guide your children to think in beneficial, life-enhancing ways.
     ·         Model life-enhancing thought patterns in your own life. Think out loud around your children and let them hear beneficial patterns of thought. Let them hear how you avoid “making a mountain out of a mole hill.” Let them experience you recognizing that a negative event is temporary not permanent. Acknowledge what is, and what is not, your responsibility in the midst of difficult situations. Give your children the opportunity to discover that your most common thoughts focus around things that are true, respectful, admirable, of good reputation, and praiseworthy. One of the most crucial times to model life-enhancing thought patterns centers on times of discipline. When you discipline misbehavior, make sure your words reflect a firm, but grace-filled, love. Practically speaking, this means no name-calling, focus on behavior not character, do not make the misbehavior bigger than necessary by lecturing or “going on and on,” and express faith in your child, that he can and will (and most likely has in the past) engage in the positive behaviors you desire.

·         Teach life-enhancing thought patterns in all situations. Talk to your children in difficult times, challenging times, and happy times to encourage thought patterns that promote humility, respect, love, and truth in each situation. When their team loses a game, teach them to think about what they can learn and how to improve. When their team wins a game, teach them to think about showing grace and respect to their opponent. When their mind reaches for the worst case scenario in the midst of a challenging situation, teach them to question that worst case and search for the reality of the situation instead. Teach your children to listen to their thoughts, investigate the evidence for their thoughts, question the usefulness of their thoughts, and consider any realistic alternatives for their thoughts.

·         Practice gratitude. Every night ask your children to name 3 events they experienced during the day for which they are grateful. Write them down; keep a list. Throughout the day, say “thank you” every chance you get. Tell your children “thank you” when they do something kind. Tell your spouse “thank you” for supper. Tell the stranger “thank you” for holding the door open, the waitress for bringing your food, the other driving for letting you into the line of traffic. Let gratitude permeate your language and your actions. Then it will permeate your children’s thoughts as well. The life-enhancing thought pattern of gratitude will become your children’s natural approach to life, their modus operandi. Is there any better way to live than to live with gratitude?
Parents cannot not teach, lead, and guide their children, even when it comes to patterns of thought. As you might imagine, teaching your children life-enhancing thought patterns will demand your time and attention, your best listening ear, a heart of patience, and a compassionate sensitivity…but, the results are well worth the effort.