Archive for January 26, 2015

Hot Sauce Vs. the Power of Relationship

When you build strong, secure relationships with your children, you promote world peace. Does that sound like an overstatement? Well, consider Mikulincer’s research. Mikulincer rescuerasked 120 undergraduate Israeli Jews to give both an Israeli Jew and an Israeli Arab a sample of hot sauce. He used these two groups because “research has shown that [these two groups] tend to react to each other with prejudice, hostility, and overt aggression” (you know this by watching the news).  Before the undergraduates set apart a sample amount of hot sauce to give an Israeli and an Arab, half were subliminally primed with the name of a person with whom they have a secure attachment (a strong, loving, life-enhancing relationship). The other half of the group was not. The results: the Israeli Jews who were not primed with the name of a person they have a secure relationship with were more likely to give larger amounts of hot sauce to the Israeli Arab than to the fellow Israeli Jew. Those primed with the name of person they have a secure relationship with gave equal amounts to each and kept the amounts relatively small. The participants showed more tolerance and even compassion after being primed with a secure relationship. They held to more harmonious values, even when engaging a group of people with whom they have long-standing conflict.


Obviously, relationships are powerful. Family relationships (our primary attachment relationships) are even more powerful. They impact more than our immediate family. When children leave the nest, their family relationship goes with them. It impacts how they view and respond to other people. Do you want to raise children who exhibit tolerance toward other people? Do you want your children to act compassionately toward others? It begins you’re your relationship to them. The more secure your relationship with your children, the more likely they will exhibit tolerance and compassion toward others. To build a secure relationship with your children:

  • Prioritize spending time with your children.
  • Verbally express how much you love your children. Tell them you love them. Acknowledge their work. Recognize their efforts. Encourage them. Validate them. Each of these verbally expresses love.
  • Practice healthy, loving touch with your children. Give them a kiss good-bye or good-night. Put an arm around their shoulder. Slap a high five. Even the NBA (link) has found that appropriate touch increases trust and security.
  • Offer age appropriate limits, boundaries, and consequences. Yes, discipline is an essential part of a secure relationship. No need to become harsh. Simply make the limits known and understood. Then, as calmly as possible, enforce the consequences of breaking those limits and boundaries.


These four tips will go a long way in helping you develop a secure relationship with your children. By developing that secure relationship, you will raise more tolerant and compassionate children. You will be doing your part to promote world peace in your own corner of the world!

Set a Goal and Get Happy

I want my family to live in a happy home. Who am I kidding? I want to live in a happy home! I want to come home to a place filled with happy people. Happy families resolve African American Family Parents and Childrenstress more quickly. They find family time more enjoyable. They laugh more. But, happy families do not just happen in today’s world. No. We have to nurture and grow a happy family. To live in a happy family we have to develop practices that promote happiness (see 10 Habits for a Happy Family). One habit that promotes happiness is to develop goals. My first thought upon hearing “goals” was “Oh great, something else to pressure me.” But, goals do not have burden us. When established wisely, goals motivate us and turn dreams into reality. They help us engage in activities and areas that interest us. Goals provide the opportunity to think about, plan, and pursue what we value and enjoy. Good goals promote a sense of purpose while we work toward achieving them. They bring a sense of accomplishment as we actually complete them. Goals also build confidence in our abilities and excitement for our future plans. All of this leads to greater family happiness. Sounds good doesn’t it? But how can we establish goals to promote family’s happiness? Here are six tips to help you do just that!

  1. Think about what interests your family. Consider what your family values and enjoys. Does your family enjoy music? Make a goal related to music. Does your family enjoy sports, history, comedy, traveling…? Whatever interest your family might have provides wonderful fodder for a great goal.
  2. Consider any areas of family growth your spouse/children might like see. Does your spouse want a more thankful family? Your daughter a family that offers more affirmations and compliments? Then set a goal about gratitude, encouragement, and affirmation. Maybe your son wants a more active family; or you want a family that helps with household tasks more often. Turn these desires into family goals. Following these first two steps will assure that your family finds the family goals meaningful.
  3. Make sure to attach incentives and rewards to your goals. Don’t limit the rewards to money. In fact, financial rewards may be the least effective anyway. The natural results of working on the goals, verbal acknowledgement of effort, and time together will prove much more effective as incentives. For instance, a family movie night (which provides time together and fun) can serve as a reward…pop in a favorite DVD and serve some popcorn at home. Playing a family member’s favorite game also offers a great reward. If you have a family goal of offering more gratitude, the simple act of receiving that gratitude acts as a reward.
  4. Make it fun to work on the goals. Offer encouragement, not criticism. Notice one another’s efforts and progress. You might even have a little competition to add fun and motivation. If your family has a goal to offer more affirmations and compliments, ask your family to determine who offered the highest number of sincere compliments during the week and serve that person’s favorite dish for dinner. You get the idea. Make it fun.
  5. Don’t go overboard. Happy families work toward achievable goals. They do not establish so many goals that family members feel overwhelmed; nor do they make the goals a source of pressure. Instead, happy families make reasonable, age appropriate, realistic goals. If a goal seems too big or creates too much pressure, change it. Break it down into smaller goals or modify it in some way. And remember to give each smaller part of the goal its own set of incentives and rewards.
  6. When you see progress toward a goal or recognize extraordinary effort toward a goal, celebrate. After all, movement toward achieving this goal means your family has grown in an area of interest or value. It means your family has become better at a desired skill. Moving toward achieving a goal means the whole family has put effort into the family and has identified the family as a priority. That deserves celebration!

Following these six tips can help increase your family’s happiness through goal setting. Now let’s get moving. Set a goal and get happy!

Exercise Your Way to a Happy Family

A survey based on ten everyday habits shown to increase happiness revealed the frequency with which people practiced the various habits. Acceptance, although one of the Roller skateshabits most strongly linked to happiness, was practiced least. (You can learn the 10 habits of happiness and 5 ways to practice acceptance to promote happiness in your family at Habits for a Happy Family.)  Exercise is another habit shown to promote happiness. You could say “a happy family is an active family.”

  • Exercise helps transform a bad mood into a good mood. One group of researchers even reviewed 39 studies involving 2,326 people to discover exercise provides moderate relief from depression.
  • In another study, Baron found people who maintained an exercise program for sixteen weeks slept better than those who did not exercise. A good night’s sleep promotes happiness. (My children will vouch for that!)
  • Exercise is fun, too…once you get started. Research suggests people enjoy exercising more than they predicted.

Overall, exercise promotes happiness. If you want to increase family happiness through exercise, make it part of your family lifestyle. Get active. Here are four tips to help make exercise part of your family’s happiness.

  1. Make it fun. Find an activity your whole family can enjoy. If you don’t like to run, don’t do it. Try hiking, biking, swimming, tennis, yoga…. The point is to find an activity your whole family can enjoy together.
  2. Encourage one another. Family activity and exercise is not about winning. It is not an opportunity to demean or belittle. You will likely enjoy some level of competition in your family exercise. Use that competition to teach good sportsmanship. Teach your family how to win graciously and lose in a dignified manner. Begin teaching good sportsmanship by modeling it.
  3. Model an active lifestyle. Let your family see you exercise and move. Talk about things you learn through exercise. Let them know how exercises impact your daily life and mood.
  4. Have fun. Did I say that already? Let me mention it again. Have fun. Exercising as a family can be a great time. Enjoy one another’s company. Celebrate one another’s victories, great and small. Encourage and support one another during the activity. Then sit down and reminisce about the game. Talk about the greatest play of the game, the climb’s greatest challenge, or the most creative shot. Laugh about the lucky goal or the awkward slip. Have fun!


Now get out there and exercise. You will feel better. Your family will feel better. And everyone will be happier because a family that exercises together is a happy family.

9 Tips to End Chore Wars

Research suggests one of the best predictors of success in the mid-twenties is participating in household tasks at 3-4 years old (Dear Children, The Real Reason I Make You Do ChoresMother And Son Doing Laundry). So, if you want your children to grow into successful “twenty-somethings,” let them do chores. Of course, that is easier said than done. The real question becomes “how do we get our kids to participate in household chores?” Let me offer nine suggestions that might help.

  • Let your children see you work around the house. Let them see you cleaning, washing, and fixing rather than “vegging out” in front of the TV or computer.
  • Include your children in your household routine. Start when your children are young by asking them to clear the table, make the bed, or pick up clothes. It may take you a little longer to finish the task, but your children will learn how to help and grow accustomed to participating in household tasks.
  • Make it about more than just doing work. Interact with them during the task by asking about their life, talking about a mutual activity, or discussing some fun plans-in-the-making. Make it about more than work. Make it about time spent together.
  • Be observant of your children. Notice what chores and tasks your children do without being asked. Support those choices. Acknowledge their contribution. Thank them for their unsolicited help.
  • Make the chores age appropriate AND meaningful. Don’t give your children menial tasks with no purpose. Give them chores that serve a function in the home. Let them know the task they perform is essential to a smooth running household.
  • Supervise, but allow your children creativity. Your children may not complete the chore the same way you would. Allow them creative variation as long as they meet a basic standard of competence. Let them do it “their way” whenever possible.
  • Don’t expect your children to complete a new task perfectly the first time. Allow them time to learn. In fact, do it with them the first few times. Then slowly allow them more and more independence until they complete the task on their own.
  • When your children encounter a snag while doing a chore, do not jump in and take over. Let them struggle to solve the problem. You might work with them to find a solution, but do not jump in and take over. You will be pleasantly surprised at their ingenuity.
  • Acknowledge the work your children do. You don’t need to flood praise on them for completing some task to acknowledge their work. Simply thank them for participating in the task of keeping a home. Let them know their participation allows the home to run more smoothly. The whole family benefits. Show your appreciation.


Of course you may still run in to some difficulties around chores. However, implementing these nine ideas will create a home in which every member of the family participates in the household tasks.

Beware When Playing With Your Children

I love my memories of playing Barbie, Frisbee, badminton (not a pretty sight I must admit), board games, and many more games with my children. These play activities allowed us to bond with one another. They gave us the opportunity to grow more intimate, to laugh together, and to learn from one another. That being said, playing with our children presents some dangers in today’s world. Let me explain.

  • Happy family playingSome parents want to be their children’s best friend. As their children’s best friend, they intrude into every aspect of their children’s life and remain physically present in every corner of their children’s life. They smudge their fingerprint onto every activity, every game, and every relationship in their children’s life. As a result, their children never learn from other trusted adults or other children; they never develop a life of their own.
  • Some parents believe they must keep their children constantly entertained. They will do anything to keep their children happy and active. They hate to see a look of boredom cross their children’s face. So they manage their children’s every waking hour, scheduling an endless cycle of activity. When no outside activity is available, they orchestrate an activity of their own to keep their children busy. Their children never learn how to schedule their own time. They never learn how to entertain themselves.
  • Some parents take over the activity. Stating a desire to teach their children, these parents simply take over. You know, the child begins a video game but the parent jumps in to show them how to do it. Next thing you know, the child sits idly by while the parent plays the game. Or the parent jumps in to show them the “proper way” to clean the table or complete the math problem on their homework…and the child merely watches. Unfortunately, this parent has sent a subtle message that the child is incompetent and incapable.
  • Some parents get caught up in worry about their children’s safety and become over-protective. As a result, this parent limits their children’s play. No activities that might result in injury are allowed. No wandering too far from home. No possibility of failure. These parents teach their children that the world is not a safe place and mistakes are bad. The children come to believe a person cannot recover from failures. As a result, these children limit their activities and their exploration. They avoid risk and challenge. They miss the opportunity for success that healthy risk-taking can promote.


How can a parent avoid these dangers?  Put these four ideas into practice.

  1. A parent’s job is more than play. Children benefit from parents who play with them. However, children also need parents who discipline and teach. Teach your children appropriate behavior. Teach them how to entertain themselves. Teach them to manage their time. Teach them to creatively seek out activities independently.
  2. Children do not need constant entertaining. It is okay to experience boredom. In fact, boredom may pave the way to curious exploration and creative discovery. At the very least, boredom teaches children that they are responsible for their own entertainment and fun.
  3. Let your children take some risks. I don’t mean to let them jump off skyscrapers. But, let them take some age appropriate, healthy risks. Remember, healthy risks can lead to great learning and success. Allow your children to make mistakes and experience failures. The best learning often occurs in that moment of failure.
  4. Allow older siblings and other adults the opportunity to supervise your children and their activities. Children can learn a lot from other adults. Sometimes they will learn more easily from other adults than they do from their parents. So let your children get involved with other trusted adults. And, let older siblings watch children. The older sibling can learn responsibility and takes the role of mentor more seriously when parents allow them to influence their younger sibling more directly.


Yes, playing with your children carries some risk. Don’t get lost in overprotecting, intruding, managing, or entertaining. Instead, remember to teach, allow some boredom, encourage healthy risks, and provide opportunities to learn from other mature adults.

10 Habits for a Happy Family

I remember singing this chorus as a kid:

“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap, clap).


If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap, clap).


If you’re happy and you know it then your face will surely show it.


If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap, clap).”

African American Family Parents and ChildrenMy friends and I had a great time clapping, stomping, and spinning into happiness while singing this song. As I’ve grown older, though, it takes a little more to make me happy. Even more important, I want my whole family to experience happiness now, not just me. To my surprise, my clapping, stomping, and singing does not necessarily increase my family’s happiness (go figure). Fortunately, happiness is something we can nurture, something we can increase by establishing a variety of daily habits. Research has identified 10 habits that contribute to happiness. If we teach these habits to our children and practice them ourselves, we can nurture happiness in our family. Let me list the 10 happiness habits for you (and you can read more about them on Psyblog. Notice that the first letter of each habit spells out GREAT DREAM.

  • Giving: doing things for others.
  • Relating: connecting with other people.
  • Exercising: taking care of our bodies.
  • Appreciating: noticing the people and the world around us.
  • Trying out: learning new things.
  • Direction: having goals we can look forward to.
  • Resilience: finding ways to bounce back.
  • Emotions: taking a positive approach to life.
  • Acceptance: being comfortable with who we are.
  • Meaning: being a part of something bigger.

These habits help increase happiness for individuals…and for our families. Not surprisingly, people are better at some of these habits than others. A recent survey of 5,000 people (you can take the survey for yourself at Do Something Different) revealed that acceptance, although the habit most strongly linked to life satisfaction, is the habit practiced least often. Almost half of the 5,000 people surveyed rated themselves as 5 or less on a scale of 1-10 in the area of acceptance. In other words, a full 46% rated themselves below the halfway point in terms of self-acceptance. Acceptance is a happiness habit which every family can likely improve. How can you increase acceptance in your family? I’m glad you asked. (Well, technically I raised the question…but I hope you’re at least a tad bit curious.)

  1. Model acceptance of yourself. Accept yourself shortcomings and all. Be kind to yourself. Make sure your language and actions reveal that you see your mistakes as opportunities to learn. Recognize what you do well and be willing to humbly verbalize your strengths.
  2. Model acceptance of others in your family. Show kindness to your spouse and children. Let your language and your response to them reveal that you believe their mistakes are opportunities to learn as well. Trust them to do significant tasks in the home, even as they are learning how to do them well.
  3. Recognize their strengths. Verbally acknowledging their skills.
  4. Enjoy your spouse’s and children’s strengths and interests. Even if their interests do not initially “turn you on,” learn about them. Listen to them talk about their interest. Read up on their interests. Help create opportunities for them to learn and grow in their areas of strength. Support them in pursuing their interests.
  5. Spend time with your family, both times of quietness and times of activity. Times of activity allow you to have fun together, to accomplish goals together, and to work together. This builds acceptance. Times of peace and quiet allow us to grow comfortable with one another’s silence, to accept one another even when we are not pursuing the same goals.

I’m sure there are other ways to nurture acceptance in our families. Share with us ways in which you promote acceptance within your family? Also, stay tuned over the next several blogs as we continue to explore practical ways to promote the other keys of happiness in our families.

Step Back Momma Bear

You see your child and another child fighting over a toy. What’s a parent to do?

Your teen daughter comes home talking about an altercation with one of her friends. Should you step in and mediate?

Your son starts off playing with another boy but you see it slowly escalate into aggressive wrestling and even some fighting. Does the parent need to intervene to stop the fighting?


Does your “Mamma Bear” or “Papa Wolf” jump up to protect your child in the scenarios brown bear - femaleabove? I can feel my protective tendency rising up. But, let me suggest that sometimes the best approach to such situations involves “nonintervention.” That’s right. Nonintervention is an effective tool to use in parenting. Of course a parent must practice wisdom when using nonintervention. Specifically:

  • A parent needs to know his children well enough to anticipate when and where a conflict may get out of control or become dangerous. We don’t want any child to get hurt. So, plan to step in if you see the potential for someone to get hurt.
  • A parent must remain observant of his children and any conflict that arises so he can assess if and when he does need to step in to mediate. Times will arise when a parent will need to step in to mediate, teach, and facilitate a resolution.
  • A parent also needs to focus on teaching the importance of relationship and the corresponding respect for others. Our children learn this in our daily interactions and conversations with them. They learn it by observing our actions and listening to how we talk to others. When they see us valuing relationships and showing respect to others, they will more likely do the same.
  • A parent must model healthy anger management and conflict resolution skills in relation to their spouse, friends, and children. Once again, children learn the most by watching how we act and what we say in relation to them and others.


Keep those four caveats in mind and nonintervention will prove itself a very effective parenting tool. As children work out their own disagreements and conflicts, they will learn how to manage contentious relationships. They will gain the strength to handle quarrels graciously. They will increase their ability to endure in healthy relationships, even in the midst of inevitable conflict. Learning to resolve differences independently will allow children to learn the art of compromise, to seek the greater good of community, and to respect one another in spite of transitory antagonism. Resolving conflict independent of adult intervention teaches our children that relationships can grow stronger through times of strife and disagreement. They will discover that community brings pleasure and pain. Perhaps more important, they will learn that pain, like pleasure, can produce intimacy when managed properly. So, take a step back Momma Bear. Slow down Papa Wolf. Give your kids a little time and space to work things out on their own. You might be pleasantly surprised with their creative resolution and their growing maturity!

One Practice for a Healthier New Year

Apple TreeAn old proverb encouraged healthy eating by reminding us “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” I do agree that an apple a day beats getting sick. Carnegie Mellon University has discovered another way to keep the doctor away, another daily practice that can encourage healthy living. This one is free and I love it! To test this method of encouraging health, researchers exposed 404 adults to a common cold virus. (The volunteers knew about the exposure and were paid $1,000 for their involvement. What would you do for a thousand bucks?) After the initial exposure, volunteers were quarantined and monitored for symptoms. Some of the volunteers developed cold symptoms. Some did not. Researchers compared who did and did not develop cold symptoms with perceived social support in general and being hugged by a trusted person, in particular. The results showed that being hugged by a trusted person actually protected participants from the cold virus. In other words, those who reported receiving more hugs over the two weeks prior to exposure were less likely to catch a cold…even when intentionally exposed to the virus! And, for those who did catch the cold, the volunteers who reported more frequent hugs in the two weeks prior to exposure developed less severe symptoms. It seems a hug a day can keep the doctor away. I’ve been requesting extra hugs since I read this article…for purposes of remaining healthy of course.


Now you know this free health promoting practice: hugging. If you want a healthy family this year, go ahead and encourage everyone to eat an apple a day. But, don’t stop there. Add a new action to your family health plan. This year, prevent illness by giving your spouse and kids at least one hug a day. If you really want to make it special and enjoy even more benefits, share an oxytocin hug each day. Help your family stay healthy. Share a hug every day. After all, it seems “a hug a day keeps the doctor away.”