Archive for February 29, 2016

Laughter is Good Medicine…& A Great Date Night

Sarah Algoe, assistant professor of social psychology at UNC-Chapel Hill, believes “little things” like gratitude and laughter “help relationships flourish.” I agree, but she went so far as to test this belief. She and a graduate student asked 77 couples to describe how they

first met. They watched and listened as the couple answered. After reviewing the videotapes of the couples’ answers, the researchers discovered that couples who spent more time laughing together during their description felt more similar to one another. Each spouse in the couples who laughed together also felt their partner was more supportive of them. In other words, laughing together builds a stronger relationship.

Doesn’t laughing together sound like a great way to build a stronger marriage? A fun and enjoyable way to increase feelings of connection and support? So, here’s an idea. Plan a date night of laughter. Go out to dinner and share funny stories of your life together, from the time you met to yesterday’s humorous autocorrect text. After laughing your way through dinner, go to a movie. Make sure to see a funny movie, maybe even a romantic comedy. Laugh it up. After all, a couple who laughs together stays together.

My Teen Hates Me!

Do you ever get the feeling your teen hates you…that they don’t want you around? You know the scenario: teens don’t smile or interact at home but as soon as they see friends they perk up, smile, and interact with great energy. Or, teens, embarrassed by their parent’s simple remark, roll their eyes and say, “Maw-awm,” in their best agitated tone, “You can leave now!” Such scenarios can make a parent feel unloved. Don’t worry; your Cute Teenage Girl with Serious Expressionteen does love you. But, they are also beginning to develop their own life. They are exploring their independent sense of self in the world. To do so, they push against you (their parent) and become more intensely involved with their peers. They find companionship and support with other teens who are engaged in the same transition and the same struggles as them. Strong connections with other teens provide teens with an accepting environment in which to explore their emerging selves and abilities in the world outside of family. Research even suggests your teens’ positive peer relationships provide the best predictor of well-being and happiness throughout their life. Daniel Siegel refers to our teens’ drive for peer relationships as Social Engagement, a crucial aspect of our adolescents’ ESSENCE (read The ESSENCE of Adolescence and The Emotional Spark of your Adolescent’s ESSENCE for more). Unfortunately, all this can also mean your teens distance themselves from you, their parent. You may feel the distance as a loss or even emptiness at times. It may also increase your anxiety and worry. But, never forget, your teen does still love you. They still need you. They just need growing independence as well. How can you balance your teen’s need for independence with their need to stay connected to you? Try these 6 tips.

  • Pay attention to your teen’s inner life. Don’t get too caught up in their grumpy looks, rolling eyes, and impatient gestures. Instead, get curious about the emotions and thoughts behind these outward signs. Let them engage you in their philosophical discussions and emotional rants. Listen closely and you will learn about their developing inner world of thoughts, values, concerns, fears, and interests.
  • Accept your teen. You may endure ever-changing moods and constantly shifting interests. Accept your teen and their shifts as they explore their emerging self. Encourage. Listen. Support. Express, through words and actions, that you want them to become themselves and achieve their dreams, not your dreams.
  • Provide a safe haven for you teen. Create a home environment in which they feel safe, accepted and loved no matter wat. Let home be a place they can come to let their guard down, talk about anything from homework to their anger at you to the temptations they face at school. Accept the conversations as loving invitations into their private world of developing thoughts and ideas. Make your home a place they can turn to for support, encouragement, and guidance when the risks make them nervous.
  • Trust your teen to manage risk. Teens engage in risky behaviors that stem from their need to explore the world. Allow your teen to step beyond their comfort zone. Even more difficult, allow your teen to step beyond your comfort zone.
  • Focus on connecting with your teen. Connecting is even more important than correcting in many instances. If you take the time to connect with your teen you will find less need to correct. Your teen will also respond to your correction more readily when you have a strong connection with them.
  • Be present with your teens when they encounter difficulties. Don’t try to fix the problem; simply be present with them. Be aware and sensitive to what is happening. Tune in to how the problem is impacting them emotionally, mentally, socially, and even physically. Remain open to how various situations impact your own inner life as well. Engage in a conversation around the emotions, thoughts, and meaning of various difficulties. You might be surprised as a solution naturally arises.

Practice these six tips and you will find your teen feels secure in their relationship with you. Home will become a secure base from which they can go with their peers to safely explore their place in the world away from home and a safe haven to which they can return when difficulties arise. Most important, you will watch your teen will mature in amazing ways.

The #1 Action for Improving Your Marriage

If you want a stronger, healthier marriage take this simple action every day: express gratitude to your spouse! That’s right. Expressing gratitude is the most consistent predictor of marital quality according to research completed by the University of Georgia. Researchers African American Couple Laughing On The Floorinterviewed 468 married individuals about financial stress, communication style, and expressions of gratitude for this study. They discovered that the practice of saying “thank you” and expressing gratitude promoted a higher quality marriage. Such expressions of gratitude interrupted negative communication patterns. They decreased the “proneness to divorce.” They protected a woman’s marital commitment in the face of negative communication styles. In other words, expressing your appreciation for your spouse—showing gratitude and acknowledging the nice things they do, and saying “thank you”—carries great power in your relationship. So, start today. Improve the quality of your marriage by saying “thank you.” Protect your marriage by intentionally expressing gratitude for something your spouse does every day.

A Father’s Surprising Difference

FatherPerfectFathers, check this out—more proof of the significant difference you make in the lives of your children! Researchers from the University of New Castle followed 11,000 British men and woman for 30 years. They asked the parents of these men and woman how much quality time their father spent with them as children, activities like reading with them and organizing outings with them. They compared the level of a father’s quality involvement in their children’s lives with their lives as adults. The results suggest that the more involved a father was in their children’s early life, the higher the children’s IQ.  In addition, children who experience greater father involvement were more socially mobile and upwardly mobile in their career. I love this quote from Dr. Daniel Nettle, the lead researcher:

“What was surprising about this research was the real sizeable difference in the progress of children who benefited from paternal interest and how 30 years later people whose dads were involved are more upwardly mobile.”

Fathers, you will leave a lasting legacy for your children, a legacy that will impact their educational life, social life, and career! Don’t squander that responsibility. Invest in your children. Spend time with them. Read to them. Enjoy activities with them. Have some good old fun with them. In so doing, you create a legacy, a “real sizeable difference” that will extend into your children’s adulthood

The Emotional Spark of Your Adolescent’s ESSENCE

Daniel Siegel suggests the ESSENCE of adolescence involves an Emotional Spark (the ES in ESSENCE—for an overview of the ESSENCE read The ESSENCE of Adolescence). Teens experience intense emotions sparked by changes occurring in their bodies and their lives. For instance, teens experience changes in their family role and responsibilities. They also begin to face the daunting task of determining the role they will play in the world outside their home. Hormones surge through their bodies resulting in physical changes as well. All these changes can result in self-conscious awareness, stress, and volatile emotions. In addition, teens’ brains are changing. The brain’s reward chemical (dopamine) has a lower baseline in teens. This contributes to your teen’s complaint of boredom. On the other hand, when teens reach a threshold of interest that releases the reward chemical, it releases at a higher rate and provides a greater reward. As a result, teens gravitate toward behaviors that will release dopamine and provide an exhilarating thrill. Unfortunately, some of these behaviors may involve risk. Add to this a teen’s tendency to see only the reward and not the potential risk, not the context or the setting or the values, and you can see how this adds to teen vulnerability. You can also imagine how this creates an emotional spark, an intensity of emotion in teens. They can swing from happy to angry, miserable to ecstatic, boredom to energetic interaction in the blink of an eye. They seek out thrilling adventures and exhilarating activities in life. That, perhaps, is one of the benefits of a teen’s emotional spark. It fills them with energy when they find an activity of interest. It can create a zest for life and drive for the ideal world. It empowers teens to find meaning for their life. In fact, many adults would benefit from creating an emotional spark in their own lives, to find that zest and excitement for the adventure of life.

Since that emotional spark also carries potential risk, teens need their parents to help guide and direct their emotional spark in a positive direction. They need parents to create an environment in which their emotional spark brings about productive results. Parents can help channel a teen’s emotional spark in a creative beneficial direction by:

  1. Silhouette of hiking man jumping over the mountains at sunsetHonor your teen’s emotions by accepting their emotions, especially if you don’t understand them. Become curious about your teen’s emotions. Strive to understand the emotion and the priorities hiding beneath the surface of the emotion. Help your teen label their emotions and clarify the values undergirding those emotions. By doing this, you teach your teen that emotions provide information to consider when choosing an action, but the emotion itself does not drive the action.
  2. Honor your teen’s interests. Observe carefully to learn what sparks your teens’ interests, fuels their excitement, and drives their passion. Guide them to positive outlets for their passions. Introduce them to people and clubs with similar interests. Engage them and their friends in exciting adventures of their choosing.
  3. Develop a rite of passage for your teen. This does not mean forcing them into a 30-day survival test or some other extreme adventure. A rite of passage could be as simple as getting a driver’s license. I took my girls on an overnight back pack trip. My wife took them on a trip to NYC. The important thing is to discover what sparks their interest and find a way to use that interest to mark their move toward maturity. Nothing extreme; just something challenging and memorable that can become a celebration of taking one more step toward maturity.

Practice these three actions to honor your teen’s emotional spark and guide that spark in a productive way.

Six 10-Second Marriage Refreshers

Every marriage needs refreshing. Busyness, everyday frustrations, little irritations, arguments…they all serve to clutter our marriage and slow our loving response.  When that happens, we need to refresh our marriage, reaffirm our love and reestablish our connection. Here are some simple, yet effective ways to refresh your marriage in 10-seconds.

  1. Senior Couple - Kiss on the CheekGive your spouse a 10-second hug. Wrap your arms around your spouse and hold on tight. A 10-second hug will release oxytocin, a hormone affectionately nicknamed the “cuddle hormone.”
  2. Think about the traits and strengths you admire in your spouse. Write down as many as you can in 10 seconds. Go ahead, set the timer and go…. You can even set an alarm to do this two or three times a day.
  3. Take 10 seconds to think about the past few days and write down things your spouse has said or done for which you are grateful.
  4. After you have done numbers 2 and 3, spend 10 seconds sending your spouse a text telling them one thing you admire about them or thanking them for something they’ve done…or both!
  5. Kiss for 10-seconds. I don’t mean a little peck on the cheek. Walk up to your spouse, take your spouse into your arms and give your spouse a big kiss…right on the lips! You’ll hear your kids say, “Ewwwww” but you’ll know you have just enjoyed a marriage refresher.
  6. Write your spouse a love note or an encouraging note on a post-it and stick it on the mirror for them to find. The note can be simple: “I love you” or “You’re in my heart” or “Good luck at your meeting” or…. You get the idea. A simple note in a place where your spouse will find it and you’ve just refreshed your marriage.

Practice these six 10-second marriage refreshers every day. They will help declutter your marriage and keep your love flowing strong. Why not take 10-seconds right now—pick one of these options and refresh your marriage?

Barney, Big Bird, & Mr. Rogers Knew It…Do You?

mrrogers_imageBarney, Big Bird, and Mr. Rogers had at least one practice in common, a practice that every parent of young children can use to great benefit. Let me give you 3 simple hints (click on each for a further hint): “We always clean up, clean up, to show we really care….” “And That’s Cooperation….” “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” Did you figure it out? They all sang songs and used music to teach lessons to the children watching their shows. You can do the same thing at home. Singing songs with your children can be a great parenting tool. Let me list some of the ways music and singing can help with parenting just like it helped Mr. Rogers and Big Bird.

  • Singing teaches lessons. We learn everything from the “A-B-C’s” to values like “Amazing Grace” through music.
  • Singing can aid children in transitioning from one activity to another. A consistent song can make the transition go more smoothly.
  • Singing can make a task more enjoyable and increase children’s compliance. Who hasn’t used the song “Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere…” to help motivate children to clean?
  • Singing can make children feel significant and important. Consider how many people feel a small surge of pride and well-being when they recall Mr. Rogers singing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.
  • Singing can help build relationships. Singing puts us “in sync” with one another.
  • Singing can help create and maintain family traditions like decorating Christmas trees, worship, or having fun.

Next time you find yourself struggling to get your children to do something or transition to some new activity, try breaking out in song. It may just help…and you will all have fun together!

The E.S.S.E.N.C.E. of Adolescence

Daniel Siegel, PhD, talks about the E.S.S.E.N.C.E. of adolescence in his book, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain. He describes how the ESSENCE of the teenage mind presents wonderful opportunities and frightening risks for parent and teen. If Cute Teenage Girl with Serious Expressiona parent tries to stifle, muzzle, or oppose this ESSENCE, the teen may rebel, withdraw, or even experience depression. Instead, parents do well to engage their teen’s ESSENCE and creatively collaborate with their teen to help them harness, guide, and find healthy expression for it. What is the ESSENCE of adolescence? ESSENCE is an acronym that represents four aspects of the teenager’s changing brain. Let me explain.

  • E.S.—Emotional Spark. The reward circuits in a teenager’s brain are undergoing major remodeling. During adolescence, the reward circuits exhibit increased activity that result in teens feeling bored with everyday life while gravitating toward thrilling and exhilarating experiences. In addition, teens are experiencing epic changes in their bodies and relationships as well as their place in their families and their role in the larger world. Is it any wonder teen’s experience intense emotions in the midst of these changes? Moodiness, impulsiveness, and reactivity are not surprising when we realize the intensity of changes occurring on multiple levels in a teen’s life. On the positive side, these changes fill them with a zest for life and a drive to do something new and exciting in the world.
  • S.E.—Social Engagement. Teens exhibit an increased desire for peer relationships. Peers become a driving force in teenagers’ lives. Peer relationships provide mutual support in navigating the multiple changes teen experience in their life. In fact, research suggests positive peer relationships during the teen years are the best predictor of well-being, longevity, and happiness throughout life. Teens also need a strong supportive relationship with their parents. Supportive parents provide structure and encouragement, guidance and love to their teen during this time of transition and change.
  • N.—Novelty. Teens seek out and create novel experiences to satisfy the increased activity of the reward circuits in their brain. They need new and creative ways to engage their parents, stimulate their senses and emotions, spark their thinking, and engage their bodies. As parents, we can work to help them find ways to live passionately and adventurously while teaching them to think through consequences of actions and reducing risk of harm. One way to do this is to engage the teen’s creativity.
  • C. E.—Creative Exploration. Teens grow in their ability to think conceptually and reason abstractly as their brains become more integrated and mature. They reflect more on what they know and believe. As a result, they gain a new, and often ideal, perspective of how to impact the world around them. They ask questions and point out perceived injustices and discrepancies. They also seek out novel solutions for the problems they perceive in their world, their home, and even in their parents. This offers a wonderful opportunity to talk and connect with your teen as you share ideas and perspectives in a calm, non-judgmental discussion.

As you can imagine, each area of the adolescent E.S.S.E.N.C.E. presents challenges, risks, and opportunities. How can we, as parents, meet the challenge of the adolescent E.S.S.E.N.C.E.? How can we increase the opportunities of their E.S.S.E.N.C.E. while decreasing the risk? Those are excellent questions that I hope to explore over the next few weeks.

Marriage: A Glimpse of Heaven

An intentional Christian marriage gives us a glimpse of heaven on earth. We see a reflection of God’s Kingdom when each spouse serves, sacrifices, and loves the other. Each spouse reveals the character of their King by treating their spouse with honor, sharing grace in times of need, and actively pursuing a peace that “passes all understanding.” Spouses in a godly marriage encourage, support, and nurture one another in so many amazing ways. A godly marriage gives us a glimpse of heaven, a mere taste of something greater to come. Imagine a photo album filled with pictures capturing the moments of  joy and celebration, love and hope in your marriage. Then, sit back and pause. Consider…what awaits us in heaven is so much more than we can experience on earth…so.much.more! Enjoy this video of Mercy Me singing I Can Only Imagine with the London symphony…and imagine how your marriage gives just a glimpse of what is yet to come!