Archive for July 27, 2013

3 Tips to Nurture an Amazing Family Panacea

After years in the family lab (aka—my home and family) and conducting research (my kids say I “experiment” with them, but I really don’t “experiment”…I just try different things) on the many factors involved in family happiness (learning from my multiple mistakes), I have finally discovered a miracle cure for many family ails. That’s right, a single practice that can increase family energy and enhance optimism. It will also increase the social connections among family members and decrease conflict. This single practice can even build happiness while decreasing depression, envy, greed, and materialism. Even more, research has shown this practice to help people sleep more soundly, take better care of themselves, and resist viral infections better. In children, research has shown that engaging in this family panacea leads to better grades, fewer complaints of headaches and stomach aches, and better relationships with family and friends. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? However, I have experienced the effectiveness of this attitude in action in my own life and family. Maybe you have already figured out what I’m talking about…gratitude. That’s right: gratitude can do all this for you and your family (read more here or here). So, follow this simple 3-step prescription to build gratitude into your family life.

      ·    Model gratitude in your daily life. Thank your children and spouse for things they do. Thank your neighbors. Make it a point to thank the family cook, the person who washes the clothes, and the one who took out the garbage…. Thank the checkout clerks when you shop and the wait-staff when you eat out. Model an attitude of gratitude for your family to see.

·    Create a gratitude journal or a gratitude wall. Each night before bed, let each family member list three things for which they are grateful. List them in a family gratitude journal or write them on strips of paper to build your gratitude wall. If you do not like the idea of a journal or a gratitude wall, use your imagination to create a gratitude bank, a gratitude flower garden (on the fridge), or a gratitude house. Whatever you choose, take the opportunity for each family member to share what has made them grateful each day.

·    Make a gratitude visit. Think of people who have influenced your family in a positive way. As a family, talk about how they have helped you and for what you would like to thank them. Then, buy them a small gift to represent our gratitude and arrange a time to visit with them. During your visit, give them the gift you bought and explain how they have influenced your family. In the midst of the visit, remember to verbally tell them “thank you.”

Perhaps you have more ideas for building gratitude in your family. Maybe you even have a special ritual, routine, or practice you use to instill gratitude in family members. Please share those ideas with us in the comment section below. We will all benefit as we nurture an attitude of gratitude in our families.

Whose Problem Is That?!

Joey approached his mom at ten o’clock last night and said, “Mom, I need a poster board to do my school project. It’s due tomorrow. You need to go to Wal-Mart and get me the poster board?” He had never mentioned this project to his mother before last night. Whose problem is that?  


Susie, on the other hand, loves to practice her violin. She practices for hours every day. Unfortunately, she likes to practice in the family room. When she does, her mother cannot watch TV, work on the computer, or get her work done in the family room. Whose problem is that?


Two scenarios and two problems. Whose problems were they? That is a good question to answer before delving into a solution. The person who discovers their needs are unmet or finds themselves unhappy, frustrated, or in trouble owns the problem. And, the person who owns the problem is the one to fix it.


In the first scenario, Joey has a problem and it will not help him if his mother fixes it for him. He will not learn responsibility and planning ahead. In the second scenario, Susie’s mother has a problem. It will only lead to frustration on her part if she assumes Susie will figure it out and fix it. Instead, the person who owns the problem needs to take the responsibility to fix it.


Loving parents hate to see their children uncomfortable and, as a result, often have the desire to fix their children’s problems for them…and all children, like all adults, encounter problems. In an effort to ease their children’s discomfort, parents often try to fix it. This robs their children of the opportunity to develop effective problem-solving skills. It keeps their children dependent on them. It also prevents parents from observing their child’s amazing potential to find creative solutions to various problems.


So, when a problem comes up, step back and consider…”whose problem is that?” If you find your own needs unmet…or you find yourself frustrated or unhappy…or you discover something interfering with getting a genuine need met, suck it up, own the problem, and fix it. If, on the other hand, you discover your child has encountered a frustration, an unmet need, or a consequence, let them own the problem and fix it. Give your child a gift—the opportunity to learn responsibility and creative problem-solving skills. 

10 Ways to Honor Your Family

Honoring family members simplifies life. Really, it does. When family members honor one another, each person can relax in the trust of one another’s faithfulness; they can rest secure in family relationships. The whole family can walk in the freedom and openness of the truth, and celebrate the joy of being encouraged by one another’s words. Life becomes simpler when we honor one another. So, if you want to make family life better, think of ways to honor one another. Here are 10 ideas to get you started.

·     Let a family member be king or queen for a day. As king or queen, they get to pick the family meals and activities for the day. Make sure everyone gets a chance to be the king or queen for a day. Maybe you can do this by letting each person be king or queen on their birthday.

·     Organize a family smorgasbord. Let each family member pick one favorite food item. They might pick a dessert, a side dish, a main course, or an appetizer. Put it all together and feast on a smorgasbord meal.

·     Look through family photo albums or watch old family videos. Retell your favorite family stories as you do.

·     Get one envelope for each family member and write their name on it. Put all the envelopes nest to strips of paper in a common area of your home for one week. Encourage each family member to write a note to every other family member each day and place it in that person’s envelope. They can write something they admire about each person, a funny memory of each person, a thank you to each person, or an encouraging word.  At the end of the week, gather the family together for desert. While you enjoy your dessert, take turn reading your notes out loud. Laugh, tell stories, and celebrate together.

·     Have a family game night. Play board games, card games, sporting games…any games you like.

·     Create a 2-4 generation family tree (you can use more generations if you’d like). On the family tree, write the strengths and specific accomplishments of each family member recognized on the tree.  Share stories of each person’s life and the values your family learned through their life.

·     Go on a family outing to the zoo, the museum, a concert, a picnic…whatever you choose. Have fun!

·     Take a family vacation. Whether your vacation lasts a day or a week, enjoy the time together.

·     Make crafts as a family. If you have difficulty coming up with a craft, look some up on line. One fun idea is to create a family crest based on your name, family interests, and family values. 

·     Worship together—worship is a tremendous way to honor one another and celebrate as a family.

 What are your ideas for honoring family? Share them with us in the comment section.

6 Myths of the Perfect Parent

There is a fierce competition in the world of parenting. If a child excels in sports, music, academics, or some other area, his parents are grilled by other parents–“What did you do to…?” “How did you get her to…?” “Did you make him practice…?” “What did you do when she didn’t want to…?” This barrage of questions is not mere small talk. No, it is all part of a reconnaissance mission to gather crucial intelligence–information we can utilize to perfect our own parenting and shape our own “super kid,” a kid who can proudly reflect perfect parenting. In our efforts to become the perfect parent, we “tyrannize our children with good intentions,” force opportunities for success upon them (whether they want it or not), and stone them with information they did not request. As perfect-parent-wanna-be’s, we diligently read up on various parenting styles, worry about topics ranging from hyperactive boys to the impact of nutrition on cognitive development, and strive to become our kid’s best friend while giving advice and pain-free, yet effective, discipline. It is exhausting just thinking about it all. Why do we exhaust ourselves in search of becoming the perfect parent? I believe two reasons. One, we love our children and we really do want what is best for them. Two, we are anxious, insecure parents.  Several myths perpetuate our insecurity. Maybe…just maybe…if we could relieve some of our insecurities, we might become more effective parents. With that in mind, here are 6 myths of the perfect parent that perpetuate our anxiety. Check them out and let them go.

      1.   “I must parent perfectly so my kids will turn out OK.” If that were true, you and I would all be in trouble now! After all, have any of us had perfect parents? Has anyone had parents who never made a mistake? Never yelled at the wrong sibling? Never forgot something that was important to their child? Never accidentally said the wrong thing? Always understood? Of course not. Even with imperfect parents, we turned out OK. Granted, we did not turn out perfect, but we did turn out OK.  In fact, our parents’ imperfection taught us some important lessons (see myth number 2).

2.   “My kids will be scarred for life if I make a mistake. I have to parent perfectly or my kids will be messed up as adults.” Actually, kids are quite resilient. Parents’ mistakes and imperfections teach children important lessons. Our children learn how to recover from simple mistakes by watching us make mistakes. They also learn how to apologize and make amends by watching us (their imperfect parents) do so.  Children learn how to manage discomfort and struggle by dealing with us and our imperfect responses to them as well. Our imperfections give us and our children the opportunities to grow and learn!

3.   “The real perfect parent will judge me and think I’m incompetent.” First, there is no “real perfect parent” out there. Second, all of us struggle to the “right thing to do.” Parenting is not an exact science. If it were, we would not debate about “tiger mom’s,” “attachment parenting,” and “mindful parenting” as well as issues like how long to breast feed (if you breast feed at all), how strict a style of discipline to use, how to toilet train, etc.

4.   “I must be my child’s best friend and discipline them perfectly.” How many of us discipline our friends? What would happen if we did try to discipline our friends? If we cannot be both friend and disciplinarian to our friends, why do we think we can be both friend and disciplinarian to our children? Instead, we strive to form a loving relationship with our children–relationships from which we can guide and teach our children to live by positive values. In this process, our children will get angry at us sometimes. They may even say they hate us. We will even experience anger toward them and, at times, feel like we don’t really like them. But, they remain our children. In the end, we still love them. Our love holds them near…and our love holds them accountable.

5.   “My children’s behavior is reflection on me.” This might be true…IF we were programming robots. But, our children have a mind of their own. Peers and teachers influence them. Diets and sleep influence them. TV, twitter, instagram and minecraft influence them. We do our best to influence our children, but we are not the only ones. Ultimately, our children’s behavior is a reflection on them and their choices. Our response to our children’s behavior is a reflection on us!

6.   “If my children do not have everything they want, I am a failure and my children will hate me.” A good parent does not give their children everything they want; they give them what they need. Our children need food, shelter, clothing, positive attention, guidance, affection, and loving discipline. Parents who provide these basic needs, even imperfectly, give their children a gracious gift; and they will experience their children’s love for years to come.

Let’s be honest. Parents are not perfect. We make mistakes. Those mistakes provide a great opportunity for parent and child to grow. So, cherish your imperfections. Acknowledge your mistakes. Love earnestly…for love covers a multitude of mistakes.

The Best Advice for Dads…Ever

The other day, a new father asked me if I had any advice for him on parenting and fatherhood. I did not really think I had any unique words of wisdom. I mean, he had probably heard anything I would think to tell him. You know:

·     “Spend time with your kids now; they’ll be leaving for college before you know it.”

·     “Kids spell love T-I-M-E.”

·     “Have a date night with your wife on a regular basis. The stronger your marriage, the more secure your children.”

·     “Have fun with your kids. Build lots of happy memories with them.”

You know the advice. It is all good advice—important advice. But I’m sure he has heard it all before and I did not feel the need to beat the same drum over and over. So, when he asked if I had any advice, any words of wisdom, I replied, “Nothing out of the ordinary. You probably heard it all before.” His question did make me think though. What is one of the most important things I have done as a father? What would I definitely do again if I had to do it all over? After some thought, I went back to my friend and told him about one thing I found especially meaningful in my experience as a father. I would suggest this to every father, whether your children are young or old. My wife and I happened upon this jewel by accident; but I would not give it up for anything now. What is it? A “Daddy Night.” 

My wife works one long day a week.  So, starting when my oldest daughter was about one-year-old, I had the opportunity to care for my children solo one day a week.  My wife was not home, so I got to do it all. I enjoyed bathing them, feeding them, playing with them, getting chores done with them, and going through the bedtime routine with them.  My children and I developed our own routines…routines slightly different than the routines my wife had with them. She planned activities, we did more spontaneous activities. She played delicate games, we rough-housed. She really disliked playing Barbie, we played Barbie (much to my daughter’s dismay, Ken always tried to fly). Those routines changed as they grew. Over time, my daughters and I developed interests we enjoyed together. We went on outings together. We hung out at the house together. We had picnics, fancy dinners, cold pizza…you name it. We went to outdoor concerts, movies, parks, coffee shops…whatever. We had great times…and some not so great times. Either way, we had those times together.  I learned so much about my children by spending this time with them…and they learned about me. We shared so much.

I love our “Daddy Nights.” Amazingly, they do too—in spite of what they consider my “immature-boy-behavior” at times. In fact, they continue to shape their schedules around our nights together, even in their high school years. My oldest daughter is going away to college in the fall. We have enjoyed “Daddy Nights” for 17 years! This summer, she still plans to schedule around “Daddy Night.” My youngest daughter will go into her sophomore year of high school in the fall and we plan to continue our “Daddy Night’s.” Really, I think I’ll miss “Daddy Night” most of all when they are both gone.

My advice to fathers everywhere…dedicate one night a week as “Daddy Night.” Send your wife out with friends so she won’t be tempted to step in and take care of things. Spend the time with just you and your kids. You plan everything…until your children are old enough to share in the planning of course. Spend the evening together. Enjoy your time together, just you and your kids. The time will prove precious and the memories priceless! 

4 Steps to a Beautiful Family Day

Here is a great family celebration idea based on the concept of Dr. Martin Seligman’s “Beautiful Day.” This family celebration will give your family the opportunity to spend a fun day together, celebrate one another’s strengths, and honor someone who has contributed to your family success. It does take a little planning, but even the planning can be fun.

First, sit down and:

1.   List the activities that each family member enjoys.

2.   List each family member’s favorite foods. Consider where these two lists overlap and where they differ.

3.   List each family member’s strengths. Make special note of how these individual strengths fit in with the activities and foods discussed earlier.

Second, reflect on the people who have contributed to your family’s success. This may include grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors…anybody who has had a positive influence in your family’s life. Have fun remembering the stories associated with each of the people who come to mind. For your Beautiful Family Day, pick one person who has contributed to your family success and you would like to thank. As a family, compose a short (no more than 300 words) testimonial to that person telling them what they have meant to your family. Include 1-2 examples of how they have contributed to your family in a positive way and thank them for that contribution. After you have written this testimonial, move to the next step.

Third, design your Beautiful Family Day. Consider what you will eat (pick something from each person’s favorites food list), what you will do (pick something from each person’s favorite activities list), and when you will begin. As you plan, include at least three things. Include a way for each family member to use one of their strengths in contributing to the day. Perhaps one person enjoys cooking and can cook a special dish for the family. One person may enjoy music and could perform a song for the family. You get the idea. Also include time to visit the person for whom you wrote the testimonial. Perhaps you can meet them for coffee or invite them to your home for dessert. Plan to present the testimonial to them (perhaps read it to them) and prepare a copy for them to keep. Finally, include at least one activity that will benefit someone outside your family. You might “Run for the Cure,” sing for 30-minutes at a nursing home, take a child you know on one of your activities, or buy a gift for a shut-in while you’re out. Use your imagination to think of what you might do to benefit someone outside your family.

Fourth, enjoy your Beautiful Family Day. I know it will be a busy day. You will have a pretty full schedule. You may even decide to break it up into two or three days over the summer. Either way, when the day ends you will have wonderful memories of a Beautiful Family Day, memories that will give you a lifetime of joy! 

3 Tips to Motivate Your Child

What did you do as a kid just for the fun it? I remember spending hours riding my bicycle. On the other hand, cleaning my room was not very fun or motivating. I recently read a review that described 3 factors that help build internal motivation. Contemplating these three factors (yes, I know–who contemplates motivation “just for the fun of it”), I could see why bike-riding was motivating and fun for me. First, bike-riding gave me a sense of competence. It was easy enough that I could do it; but it also presented challenges. For instance, could I make it up the next hill or would I have to get off and walk part way? If I did not make it up the hill one day, could I make it by the end of the week? How long will it take me to get to my destination…and can I shorten that time over the next couple of trips? Each of these challenges presented an opportunity to grow more competent and efficient as a bike-rider. A growing sense competence motivates people.


Second, riding my bike gave me a sense of autonomy. I was on my own. I could make choices about where to go, what path to take, and how fast to travel. The choices were mine! I had the “wind at my back and the sun on my face.” An adventure awaited around every bend. One time I was even “tailed” by an army helicopter. Later, I discovered it was my uncle, but the adventure of fleeing before an unknown army helicopter was exciting. Yes, riding my bike gave me a sense of autonomy, filled with choices and adventures. 


Third, I often rode my bike to visit friends…or, I rode with friends. Bike-riding helped me connect with other people. Where ever we went, my friends and I could stand around our bikes and talk.  Riding my bike was a ticket to connection, a journey to relationship.


You can see why I was motivated to ride my bike. It gave me a growing sense of competence, personal choices that built autonomy, and the opportunity to connect with friends. Cleaning my room, on the other hand, did not instill a sense of competence and presented no real challenge. I usually had to do it in response to my mother’s directive–I had no choice and no sense of autonomy. And, cleaning my room did nothing to enhance my relationships. My friends weren’t even allowed in my room. I know cleaning my room was, and is, important; but it is just not very motivating. But, could a parent use these three factors to help motivation their children to do things like clean their rooms? I think it might work. Consider these tips:


Help your child build a sense of competence or independence by allowing your children the opportunity to help with chores and jobs that present some challenge. Instead of simply “picking up the clothes,” let them help paint the bedroom, devise a new plan for storing their clothes (check out this fun theory video for ideas in this area), or make it a game in which you score points based on speed combined with efficiency and final cleanliness. We once attached each task of a morning routine to a puzzle piece for our preschool daughter. She then faced the challenge of finishing her morning routine to see what picture she produced with the puzzle pieces. She loved it…and the morning routine suddenly became easier. Do whatever you can think of to make the chore more of a challenge. Of course, some chores are simply boring. But if we can find creative ways to make more of them exciting, maybe the boring ones won’t seem so bad.


To help your child develop a sense of personal autonomy, give them options and choices. Let them choose when to complete a chore, which of two necessary chores they will do for you, or how to do a chore. I like to cut the grass–sometimes in vertical rows, sometimes in horizontal rows, sometimes in a square, sometimes in diagonal rows, and sometimes I even start with letters (see the picture on the left for a message I recently left in the lawn for my wife when she returned from a trip). Either way, the grass still gets cut. Let your children have the same freedom in completing their chores. Teach them that they have options and choices.


Use chores to build connection with others by doing some chores with your children. Chip in and enjoy working together in the yard. If you plan on painting something, have a paint party with pizza and pop that your children, their friends, you, and your friends can all enjoy. Sing a song together while working. Enjoy working in groups to complete volunteer work in the neighborhood as well. Use your imagination to discover more ways to build connection by having fun working together.


I know that children will still not enjoy every chore…who does? But attempting to incorporate these three ideas into some of the household chores may help reduce their resistance to chores in general. And, your whole family might have a little fun in the process.

What Do Laughing Rats Teach Us About Family?

The “tickle monster” (aka-my hand) was poised above my infant daughter’s body as she lay on her back, hands held cautiously in front of her, eyes wide and sparkling with joy.  Her hands served as a buffer between the “tickle monster” and the “tickle monster’s” target–her belly and neck.  Her eyes followed my hand’s every move. “The tickle monster’s gonna get you,” I said in my best sing-song voice. When the “tickle monster” made a slight movement in my daughter’s direction, she curled into a ball, grabbed her stomach and started to giggle. The “tickle monster” then swooped toward her belly and tickled her. She laughed hysterically, a contagious laugh that made several other people in the room laugh, too. I tried to end our game, but she took my hand and put it on her stomach. She wanted to continue.


I was reminded of these “tickle games” when I read about a study in which researchers imposed a “tickle test” on a group of rats. (Not that my daughters are rats…oh man, that didn’t come out right…bad sentence sequencing. Maybe they won’t read this one. Anyway….) In this study, the researchers “exposed a one group of rats to a tickle test”–they tickled the rats for two, two minute sessions on a daily basis for two weeks (a lot of two’s there). After a short time, the rats seemed to enjoy the company of the tickler. When the tickler’s hand entered the caged, they followed it around, waiting to get tickled. (read more about this study and watch the video by clicking here


After two weeks, the researchers subjected the “tickle test” group and a “non-tickle test” group to a repeated stressful situation (did you ever think you’d see the words “tickle test,” rats, and stress in a blog about family?). After their stress hormones were elevated, the stressful situation ended and the researchers monitored the rats’ stress hormones. The “tickle test” group of rats recovered from the stress more quickly. Their stress hormones went down more rapidly. The tickling appeared to have helped them recover from stress. (read more of these results here)


Of course we do not live in a family of rats. Well…. No, really, we don’t. But several years ago, studies showed that laughter, as well as the anticipation of laughter, reduced stress hormones while increasing beta-endorphins (feel good hormones) in humans. In other words, laughter helps us recover from stress, too. I think that the experience of tickling and laughter builds connections and pathways in our brains that help us recover from stress. Maybe the physical contact of tickling is the key ingredient. Or, maybe the key ingredient is the playful interaction enjoyed…or the time spent laughing together…or the hormones released during laughter. I don’t know. But, I do know this: if you would like to teach your family to recover from stressful events more quickly, have some fun together. Tickle, laugh, play. Enjoy one another’s company. I actually think I’m going to push my luck and make my family a “tickle test group.” (That’s a group of people, not rats…come on people, what did you think I meant?) Anyway, want to join the fun…tickle away!