Archive for August 23, 2014

Did It Again-The Emotional Cocktail of Parenting

Well, I did it again. For the second year in a row I took my daughter to college, unpacked her belongings, said good-bye, and left her hundreds of miles away from “home.” I’m not complaining. I am proud of her…and excited to see where life takes her. She has grown and familysunheartlearned so much in only one year of college. Still, I find myself holding back the tears when I drive away after dropping her at college. In fact, several diametrically opposed emotions fill my heart as I drive away—pride in her growth and excitement for her future, yet heart-breaking sorrow that she is growing up to leave home and deep pangs of missing one of “my little girls.” I’m not sure why I’m surprised at this mix of emotions. Parenting has always led to the uncanny experience of having more than one emotion at the same time. I remember the time my then 3-year-old daughter decided she did not want to eat her dinner. She got her mother’s (my wife’s) attention and began to talk to her in an animated manner, one hand making broad gestures. She maintained great eye contact and a wonderful give-and-take conversation. She held her mother’s rapt attention, face to face and eye to eye they carried on a conversation. In the meantime, I watched my daughter, unbeknownst to her mother, use her free hand to carefully remove pieces of meat from her dinner plate and deposit them under the table. We had to discipline her. She can’t go through life deceiving the authorities in her life in order to avoid tasks she did not like (I know, a little melodramatic). At the same time, I have to admit to a bit of pride in her creative ability to do two things at one time (hold her mother’s rapt attention and carefully get rid of her food) to achieve a goal even at such a young age. There it is…concern for her future and pride in her ability—a mix of emotions.

In elementary school our daughter decided she did not want to attend gym class one day. Having seen other children hand in notes to “get out of gym,” she decided to do the same. She got her crayon and very carefully, with the penmanship of any first grader, wrote: “Please let me out of gym today” (or something like that). Being the diligent student, she flower girlcarefully signed her name. The gym teacher was a little angry at her seeming deception and push against the system. Our daughter ended up in the office. She got in trouble and we got the call from the school (go figure). Her only excuse: “I didn’t want to go to gym today.” We had to talk to her about the whole incident, even discipline her so she would understand what she had done and not do it again. But, when she was in the other room, my wife and I admired her ingenuity and laughed at her ill-conceived attempt.

And then there is the “wedding incident.” Yes, parenting is filled with mixed emotions. Like me, you can probably recall moments when you were angry at your child’s behavior, but also extremely, gut-bustingly funny…or, times when your child’s risky behavior raised concern and worry, but also filled you with pride. And then there is college…filled with excitement for their future, but concerned for their safety; filled with pride while worried about their wisdom and the choices they have to confront while away from home; filled with joy for all the new experiences while experiencing your own heart-breaking reality that they are leaving home and, in fact, will call some other place their home while merely visiting your home.

Yes, parenting is filled with mixed emotions. We let them learn how to walk on their own. We watch them fall down. We help them stand up again and we send them on their way. We celebrate their successes and encourage them to “chase their dream.” We trust they have learned what we tried to teach them. We pray that God will keep them safe and guide them. Oh…and we look forward to the emotional cocktail of walking our daughter down the aisle of marriage or seeing our son marry the woman of his dreams. What can we do?  Enjoy the journey.

Arghh Matey, Send Your Family on a Treasure Hunt

Pirates always seem to have fun in the movies. They search for treasure and share fun times together. (I realize the realism of the movies may be somewhat lacking, but we want families happy pirate familyto have fun not suffer scurvy or malaria.) This family fun night will allow your family to “sail the high seas” of adventure in search of the greatest family treasure of all—fun times together. Although this activity involves some planning, it will prove very “rewarding” in the end (I mean you get a treasure…how much more rewarding can it get?)! Here is what you do, step by step.

  1. Think of a simple activity your family enjoys. It can be anything from swimming, getting ice cream, having a campfire, or meeting friends at the park.


  1. Find a picture of that activity. Laminate the picture and cut it into pieces to form a puzzle.


  1. Think of different hiding places for each piece of the puzzle. You can hide the puzzle pieces in your own back yard or, to create a bigger adventure, hide them around your neighborhood or in a shopping center. (Do not hide the puzzle pieces yet. Read steps four and five before you actually hide the pieces of the puzzle.)


  1. Write a clue, on a plain piece of paper, leading to the place you plan to hide the first piece of the puzzle. Then write a clue leading from the first piece of the puzzle to the second, from the second puzzle piece to the third, and so on. When you have a clue leading to each piece of the puzzle, move on to step five.


  1. Hide the puzzle pieces. Keep the clue to the first puzzle piece wherever you plan to start the treasure hunt. Hide the other clues with the puzzle pieces. The second puzzle piece will be hidden with the clue to the third puzzle piece. The third puzzle piece will be hidden with the clue to the fourth puzzle piece and so on. Each puzzle piece will have a clue leading to the next puzzle piece hidden with the next clue.


  1. Now you are ready for a family fun night. Read the first clue and let the treasure hunt begin. When all the pieces are found, put the puzzle together to discover the activity pictured. Then, enjoy the activity together. (I am partial to ice cream as an ending, btw.)


Enjoy your family fun night sailing the high seas of adventure and following the clues to your family treasure.

The Hardest Word–A Testimony

I agree with Elton John when he sings, “Oh it seems to me that sorry seems to be the hardest word.” Still, I have to say it. My actions and words have driven a wedge between my forgivenotewife and me. I have torn at the fabric of our relationship. I acted inappropriately. No, that sounds like a therapist. I was just plain wrong. I yelled for no reason. I hurt her with a harsh tone and angry words. I was wrong. I have to tell her I’m sorry.  So, why is it so hard to apologize, anyway? Nobody likes to admit they were wrong, especially me. And, apologizing makes me feel so vulnerable. But, I have to take responsibility for my offense.


Where is she? There she is, in the living room. I hope she accepts my apology. Our relationship rests in her hands, the hands of the one I hurt…and still love. That’s the point. I really want a relationship with her. I hope my actions have not damaged our relationship. There is only one way to find out…apologize. I sit down on a chair near her. I know that my apology will open the door for her to tell me the depth of pain I caused.  I hate that I hurt her.


“Ummm,” I hesitate…eyes to the ground. “I’m sorry I yelled. I was wrong. I should not have said the things I said.” I want to add a “but you” or “If you wouldn’t have.” I want to defend my action, justify it in response to what she did. But I’m not going to. Benjamin Franklin was right, “Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” Besides, I was wrong…regardless of any excuse or rational, I was wrong. I have to acknowledge that. “I feel bad. I don’t want to hurt you.” There, I said it…. And, it’s true. I do feel bad. I am sorry. I was wrong. I slowly look up at my wife. “Next time I won’t yell. I’ll take a deep breath or something and think before I yell.” What else could I do different. I know…”And, if I think I might yell, I’ll take a time out or something.”


For the first time, a small smile begins to form on my wife’s face. “Will you sit in the time out chair?” She was referring to the miniature chair we had seen the “Super Nanny” use the other night. She chuckled. “I’m just joking,” she said. “But maybe it would be better to take a break for a few minutes when we get that way.”


It is good to see her smile. “You’re right. I’ll do that. And I’ll look at those crazy repair statements for something to say.” We both laugh a little as I walk toward her. I hold out my hand and she takes it in hers. I help her to her feet as we embrace one another. “I really am sorry,” I repeat.


“Me too,” she replies. “I’ll try to not ask so many questions when you’re upset.”


She does understand! “Thank you. I love you.”


A sincere apology strengthens relationship and restores trust. It communicates how much you value the other person and our relationship with them. By apologizing we also accept responsibility for our actions…no excuses, no defending, no blaming. We simply accept responsibility for our actions and our words; we take the log out of our own eye. Doing so opens the door for change. Sorry may be the hardest word to say, but it communicates and restores respect, dignity, and love to the relationship.

A Neglected Ingredient in Your Child’s Happiness

Many factors contribute to the emotional health, happiness, and success of our children. As parents we work hard to bring those factors together in our children’s lives. After all, we want happy, successful children. We want children who have resilient emotional health. To that end, we seek out opportunities for our children. We introduce them to positive activities, steer them toward healthy peer interactions, teach character, and encourage gratitude. In the process we often overlook one very important ingredient…an ingredient that, if left out, will neutralize the effectiveness of all the other ingredients put together. This often neglected ingredient is taking care of our own emotional health and happiness. If parents do not take care of their own emotional health, their children’s health and happiness is at great risk for several reasons.


four childrenFirst, children imitate their parent’s emotions. As early as 6-days-old children begin to imitate their parent’s emotions. Within months they are basing their response to the world on their parent’s emotions.


Second, people tend to become similar when they spend time together. Specifically, the person with the least power tends to become like the person with more power. In a parent-child relationship that means children will become more like their parents…for better or worse, happiness or not.


Finally, a person’s happiness is influenced by the happiness of the people he or she is connected to. A happy family will likely create a happy environment and raise happy children. In other words, a happy child lives in a happy family.


That’s all well and good We know that we, as parents, must take care of their own emotional health and happiness in order to raise emotionally healthy, happy children. The tough part is doing it. Here are four ideas to incorporate into your lifestyle to help you take care of yourself. You might think, “But I don’t have time.” Consider this…do you have time to increase your children’s happiness? Taking time to increase your happiness will increase your children’s happiness and security. It’s worth the time, isn’t it?

  • Build supportive adult relationships. Make some friends and nurture those friendships. Go out for a cup of coffee and talk with your adult friends. Do you grocery shopping together. Get together for lunch. Find a way to build and nurture supportive relationships with other adults.
  • Learn to create quiet time for yourself. This will involve not only training yourself to take some quiet time, but teaching your children to allow you that quiet time. Go for a walk. Walk the dog. Read a book. Meditate. Choose your modus operandi for quiet time and enjoy some every day.
  • Get some physical exercise. You can go to the gym. In fact, go to the gym with a friend and you will be knocking off two of these ideas “in one fell swoop”! If you don’t have the time to go to the gym, go for a walk. Get an exercise video and exercise at home. Physical exercise has a myriad of benefits to enhance your happiness. So enjoy a little exercise.
  • Last, but definitely not least, strengthen your marriage. A strong marriage enhances happiness for husband and wife. A strong marriage improves our parenting. A strong marriage offers a buffer against stress. A strong marriage…the list goes on. A strong marriage is a little taste of heaven. Nurture your marriage and your marriage will multiply the joy in your life…and your children’s lives.

Finish Your Family Business

“Shave and a haircut, two….” I hate it when things are left unfinished. Anything left unfinished sticks with us; we long for someone to finish it. “A, B, C, D, E, F….” Feel that desire to finish Unfinished bridgeit? You may have already finished both of these unfinished phrases already. Chances are you will finish each of the following phrases before you can even stop yourself:

  • “Think outside the ….”
  • “Subway, Eat….”
  • “Tomorrow, tomorrow. I’ll love you….”
  • “Silly Rabbit, Trix are for….”
  • “Toto, we’re not in….”
  • “Elementary, my dear….”


We could list more, but I need to finish this blog. Unfinished business sticks in our craw; it keeps us on edge. Unfinished things are not forgotten. They roll around somewhere in our mind consuming our mental energy. Psychologists call this the Zeigarnik effect. Bluma Zeigarnik studied this tendency to remember unfinished business after noticing waiters recalled unpaid orders better than orders already paid for. In further studies, she found that participants completing simple tasks in a lab were about twice as likely to remember interrupted, unfinished tasks than a completed task.


Families are filled with unfinished business. Some good…most I’d like to forget. Our spouse, our parents, or even our kids might do something that hurts our feelings, offends our sensibilities, or just makes us angry. If we do not find a way to resolve that offense, it will stick in our craw. It will keep us on edge. That unresolved offense will just roll around in our mind, bump up against all our thoughts, and suck up our energy and joy. It will continue to rob us of happiness and intimacy until we find a way to resolve it—finish it, pack it up, and remove it. That’s the Zeigarnik effect, the tendency to remember unfinished business until it is completed.


So, for the sake of your happiness and your family intimacy, finish the unfinished business of hurt feelings, offended sensibilities, and anger. Practice forgiveness and teach your kids to do the same! Forgiveness does not forget or excuse the behavior that offended you. It simply allows you to think about the incident objectively, counts the cost of the offense, and then graciously release the desire for revenge. It catches the ruminating thoughts of revenge and transforms them from bitterness to compassion. It helps you recall the positive characteristics you have witnessed from the offender on other occasions. Ultimately, forgiveness allows you to let the offense go and finish the unfinished offense. It allows you to regain the freedom to live your life well, to finish with grace.


Don’t let your life get stuck in an unfinished merry-go-round of anger and bitterness that robs you of intimacy and joy. Take a lesson from Zeigarnik, finish the offensive business…forgive! Your family will love you for it.

10 Family Sayings You Can Take to the Bank

There are certain phrases that every family needs to practice on a consistent basis. These sayings are priceless. You can take them to the bank–the Family Bank of Honor that is–and get a great return on your investment. So, here is an investment challenge: make an intentional effort to include these phrases in your daily interactions with your spouse and children.

  •  Family Bank of HonorI love you.
  • I am proud of you.
  • I love watching you…(fill in the sentence with the activity the participate in).
  • You really put a lot of effort into that project…and it shows.
  • Thank you.
  • I am sorry. Will you forgive me?
  • I really admire/appreciate your…(end the sentence with a character trait in your child or spouse that you admire).
  • What are your plans for today?
  • I enjoy doing things with you.
  • I was thinking about you today.


These 10 family sayings will build up your spouse and your children, enhance each person’s sense of significance and value, and increase family intimacy…priceless!

Discover Your Inner Musician for a Family Fun Night

Everyone loves music. Whether you find the joy of music through singing, playing, dancing or cat musiclistening, we all have an inner rhythm and harmony. Really, it’s true. If your heart beats and you breathe rhythmically in and out, you have rhythm. If you can walk through a revolving door without getting hurt, you got rhythm. You experience harmony every time you interact with another person and “harmonize” your interests, pace of life, and conversation to keep everyone involved. Why not use your inner musician to have a great family fun night! Here are four “variations on the theme” of a musical family fun night.


  1. Go to a free concert. Each summer and fall, several communities offer free concerts. We enjoy the Jazz at Katz Plaza and South Park concerts in our area.
  2. Put on your favorite record at home…well, play your favorite CD…ummm, turn up your download…or just turn on Spotify. Whatever you choose, play your favorite music, grab your spouse or child, and enjoy a dance around the living room.
  3. Save up some money and purchase tickets to a concert by your favorite artist.
  4. Get together with your family (and friends if you want) and sing together. You can accompany yourself if you play the guitar, ukulele, or piano. If not, do some karaoke or sing along with the radio.


Come up with your own idea for a musical family fun night…any idea tailored to give your family a great musical fun night!

There’s a New Teacher in Town…Get to Know Him

I have observed a new teacher in town interacting with our children. This teacher is a pro…incredible, amazingly effective. He actively engages our children to get them involved in the learning process. Children learn under his tutelage without even knowing it; and, even more amazing, they have fun doing it! This teacher gets children to practice skills and thinking patterns over and over again without getting bored. In fact, after practicing skills and thinking patterns all afternoon, the children under his tutelage are still eager and excited to practice some more. They even beg to continue. When the children make a mistake, he dishes out a quick and simple punishment and then offers them another chance before they forget the videogame addictionlesson of the mistake. This teacher also follows each success, each accomplishment, with a swift reward. He really is an amazing teacher…one of the best. His name is Mr. Video Game. That’s right. Video games, whether X-Box, Play Station, I-Phones, I-Pads, or home computers are the new teachers in town. They are teaching our children lessons every step of the way, changing their brains and impacting their thinking in amazing ways…some good and some not so good.


First, here are some good lessons learned and mental skills enhanced by playing video games:

  • Following instructions is a must for playing video games. Break the rules of the game and your game ends quickly.
  • Problem solving. Many video games encourage the player to devise creative ways to solve puzzles and problems or to get around various obstacles.
  • Dexterity. Video games require the player to use fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination to manage their character and manipulate virtual objects.
  • Attention to detail and spatial relations. Video game players must keep track of their characters position, movement in space, speed, and aim as well as the details of the objects, friends, and enemies in their environment. Interestingly, at least one study suggests that video game experience is related to better surgical skills for adults (read it here).
  • Planning and use of resources. Successful players learn to plan ahead in order to make the most efficient use of limited resources in games like Minecraft.
  • Quick thinking and decision making. Many video games demand that a player quickly analyze a situation and decide on a plan of action. The more accurate their decision, the more successful the game. This is a useful skill in today’s fast-paced world (read about it here).
  • Studies have also shown that video games can be used to successfully reduce anxiety (read a study here) and reduce cravings (read abstract here).
  • Video games can also result in increased gray matter in parts of the brain associated with memory, strategic planning, and working memory. This increase may help reduce the risk of dementia (read about it here).
  • We could list other benefits like providing the opportunity for parent and child to play together, perseverance, memory, teamwork, fun, etc.   Many of these benefits can be had outside of video games as well.


On the other hand, video games can teach negative lessons as well. For instance…

  • Social isolation can result from spending too much time playing video games and not becoming involved in other face-to-face activities.
  • Video games can become addictive (read more here). Kids who appear addicted to video games often exhibit more anxiety and depression. They fight more often with peers and argue more with teachers.
  • Video games can contribute to obesity and muscular issues when played too often.
  • Academic achievement decreases as video game playing increases. Children will skip homework to play and play instead of reading or engaging in an educational activity (read study here).
  • Video games can teach negative values. Some video games include violent behaviors, sexually provocative characters, and inappropriate language. Many video games also reward vengeance, aggression, and violent solutions.
  • Research also suggests that children who play more violent video games are more likely to engage in aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The video game allows the player to repeatedly view violence from the perspective of a perpetrator and then experience a reward.


As you can see, video games teach our children a lot…some good lessons and some dangerous lessons. Ultimately, parents are responsible for their children’s education. We need to monitor this new teacher in town, make some hard decisions and establish some firm boundaries. Here are some suggestions to help monitor the impact of video games in your child’s life.

  • Keep the video game console in a common area of the home. This way you will know when your children play, what game they play, and the content of that game.
  • Animated family playing video game lying down on bedPlay the video game with your children. You do not have to play every time they play. However, playing sometimes when they play will establish your “presence” as part of the game just as going to visit their school helps to establish your presence in the school.
  • Check the game ratings. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has established ratings to help parents know the age appropriateness of game content. For instance, a “M-Mature” game is rated by the ESRB as a game for 17-years-old and up.
  • Set limits around video game playing. Limits can include: the amount of time your children play video games, what games they play, when they play, expected behaviors during and after game playing, and other tasks that take priority over game playing.
  • Educate your children about internet safety and protocol. Teach them to not share personal information with other players. Watch for “cyberbullies” or other inappropriate materials that your children might encounter. Monitor your children to assure they do not engage in cyberbullying or the sending of inappropriate materials. Children often do things without thinking through the consequences. So, even if you have generally well-behaved children, monitor their activity to prevent immature, but dangerous, mistakes.
  • Learn how to use the parental controls on your video game system to monitor activity, block players if necessary, limit inappropriate material, etc. ESRB and the PTA offer an excellent brochure that can help in each of these areas (download it here).

Begin Operation M.O.R.E. in Your Family

Grandfather with granddaughter on sunset at seaI have begun a covert operation in my home and with my family. I have named it Operation M.O.R.E. for More Oxytocin Release Events (MORE). I have left the operation covert at the time so I can assess the impact of my actions. After the initial evaluation, I plan on taking this operation public and including the whole family in Operation MORE. The purpose of Operation MORE is to increase the number of events that will release oxytocin in various family members. Why have I chosen to do this? Research suggests that:

  • Oxytocin promotes attachment and bonding. It helps create M.O.R.E. intimacy in relationships.
  • Oxytocin helps to reduce feelings of stress. We live in a stressful world. If oxytocin release can help relieve stress, we might as well have M.O.R.E.
  • Oxytocin seems to intensify men’s fond memories of their mother and decrease negative memories. Perhaps more oxytocin in general will help produce M.O.R.E. fond memories of family in general.
  • Oxytocin can intensify the bond between sexual partners. Even more, it promotes faithfulness between spouses. Men who had received a nasal spray of oxytocin were less responsive to women other than their wife…they became M.O.R.E. singly focused on their wife.
  • Oxytocin inhibits tolerance to addictive drugs and reduces withdrawal symptoms. In other words, a steady release of oxytocin will decrease the likelihood of drug abuse.
  • Oxytocin seems to improve a person’s ability to interact M.O.R.E. with others (study done with children who had autism).
  • Oxytocin triggers “defensive aggression” against outside threats. In other words, it helps promote our instinct to become M.O.R.E. protective of those we love.
  • Oxytocin counters the effect of stress hormones (cortisol) and, as a result, will promote “M.O.R.E. better” sleep.
  • Oxytocin fosters generosity. In one study, those who received a nasal spray of oxytocin were 80% M.O.R.E. generous than those receiving a placebo.


That is enough reason to increase the oxytocin flow in the family and begin Operation MORE. Here is the plan of action, the ways to complete this covert operation and produce MORE oxytocin:

  • kids hugHug family members for at least 10 seconds. Do it at least once a day, maybe even M.O.R.E.
  • When the opportunity arises, hold a family members hand with one hand over the other, make eye contact with them, and give them a compliment.
  • Watch an “emotionally compelling movie” (AKA—a chick flick). I know it is a sacrifice to watch chick flicks with the family, but research suggests a 47% surge in oxytocin (that’s 47% M.O.R.E.) while watching an “emotionally compelling movie.” Sometimes we have to make sacrifices in our covert operation to enhance family intimacy.
  • Sing. That’s right. Singing helps release M.O.R.E. oxytocin. Encourage your family to sing.
  • Dance. One study found oxytocin increased by 11% after dancing (dance M.O.R.E.).
  • Do something exciting or thrilling. Have an adventure–anything from a roller coaster ride to watching a scary movie. Enjoy a thrill together.
  • Laugh together.
  • Go for a walk. To make this even more powerful, hold hands while going for a walk and have an open, transparent conversation while you do.


So far, Operation MORE has proven successful in my home. I have noticed M.O.R.E. laughter, M.O.R.E. intimacy, and M.O.R.E. joy in our interactions. In fact, the success has proven so dramatic that I have chosen to take Operation More public in my home. Perhaps you can join us by starting Operation MORE in your home as well.