Archive for April 30, 2016

What To Do With Rude, Argumentative Teens

Research from the University of Virginia suggests argumentative, rude teens who pressure others to side may “grow up” to be argumentative, rude adults. More disturbing, these rude-teens-turned-rude-adults report high levels of communication and high levels of parenting challengesatisfaction in their relationships in spite of friends and romantic partners describing them as “impossible to get along with” or “impossible to talk to.” As rude teens, they developed “relationship blindness.” As adults, they remained “blind” to the impact of their negative behaviors on the people around them and their relationships with them. They do not pick up on social cues that allow them to adjust their behavior, to modify it from rude to polite, pushy to accepting, argumentative to cooperative. And, if there is one thing worse than a rude, argumentative teen, it’s a rude, argumentative adult who doesn’t even know how rude and argumentative they are!  None of us want our teens to grow up into a rude adult with “relationship blindness.” So, how do we make sure our teen’s normal argumentative behavior does not develop into relationship blindness leading to life as an argumentative, rude, and pushy adult?

First, and most important, model a better alternative. When you disagree with your spouse, model respect. Listen intently. Speak politely. Allow your spouse to influence you instead of stubbornly insisting he or she agree with you. Do the same with your peers. And, don’t forget to do the same with your teen. Listen tenaciously to understand your teen’s point of view. Remain polite toward your teen, even in the face of their seeming apathy. Look for areas of agreement. Even allow your teen’s point of view to influence you. Our teens learn best by watching us. So live the behavior you want to see in them. Model, model, model…and model again.

Second, provide times for you and your teen to talk.  Teens will become increasingly argumentative when they feel unheard and, as a result, ignored and devalued. Make time to converse. Listen rather than lecture. Become genuinely curious instead of interrogating to gather ammunition to support your perspective. Follow their lead and focus on their ideas and feelings rather than directing the conversation to the morals you desire to emphasize. Avoid giving unsolicited advice and offer simple door-opening responses like “really,” “that’s interesting,” “hmmmm,” or “what did you think/do?”

Third, talk with your teens about how rude, argumentative behavior impacts other people and relationships. Point it out in movies or sitcoms. Don’t overdo it. Just nonchalantly point out the impact of a character’s rude behavior and then go on to other aspects of the show. If they want to talk about the rude behavior, follow their lead. Otherwise, let it go. You can also use real life examples—examples from your own life or their life. Just don’t do it in a rude, argumentative way. Simply point out people’s response to polite behavior versus rude behavior. Point out the results of truly listening and responding to differences of opinion as opposed to constant arguing. Discuss the results of pushy behavior compared to the results of cooperative behavior.

Fourth, model a better alternative. Oh, wait. Did I already say this? Sorry. It’s worth saying it one more time though. Model the life you want your children to live!

Growing Your Child’s Mind for Success

Our children’s success depends on more than talent and ability. In fact, some children have amazing talent but still avoid challenges, shun effort, and shrink from difficulties. They often believe ability is static, fixed or unchanging. This “fixed mindset” (as Carol Dweck calls it in her book Mindset) interferes with progress and growth, hindering children from Fun on the ropesaccepting challenges. It encourages them to give up too soon. On the other hand, children with a “growth mindset” have learned that ability and intelligence can be nurtured and developed. As a result, they embrace challenges, persist when faced with obstacles, and believe effort leads toward mastery. As you can imagine, a growth mindset will contribute to success. In addition, children with growth mindsets don’t just get upset when they experience failure. They persist. They figure out how to improve. As a result, their abilities grow. Here are four ways you can help your children develop a growth mindset.

  • First, set your children up for success by setting achievable goals. Break larger goals into smaller objectives (goals) that are more easily and quickly attainable. Each time they achieve a goal, they experience the benefit of effort. They can see how smaller goals lead to greater goals. They learn to persist. As an example, break down the goal of “cleaning your room” into smaller goals like “make your bed,” “put your clothes away,” “pick up your toys and put them away,” etc.
  • When your children complete a goal or achieve some success, acknowledge their effort and the strategies they used rather than praising their intelligence or ability. Praising traits actually undermines motivation and performance by contributing to a fixed mindset. Consider some of these statements in praising and encouraging your children. Each of these statements will encourage a growth mindset.
    • I really love watching you play.
    • That looks like it took a lot of work.
    • Your hard work is definitely paying off.
    • I can tell you worked hard at learning that.
    • Wow, that took a lot of time and effort, didn’t it?
    • You never gave up.
    • You’re getting better every time.
    • I like that. How did you come up with that idea? Or, how did you learn to do that?
  • Ask your children questions that will promote a growth mindset. You might try some of these ideas.
    • What did you struggle with today?
    • What did you learn today?
    • What was the most interesting thing you did/learned today?
    • What was your biggest challenge this semester? How did you deal with it?
    • How did you figure that out?
    • How many ways did you try before it turned out the way you wanted?
    • That was a challenging situation. What did you learn from it?
    • Tell me more about how you did this?
    • I really like (name a specific aspect of what they have done). What do you like best?
    • What was the most difficult part of doing this? Learning this?
    • Some things take a lot of time to learn. Do you think this is one of them?
  • Use stories of successes that resulted from effort, persistence, and time. Use stories of well-known people (athletes, leaders, scientists, etc.) who overcame obstacles, persisted, and put in great effort to become well known in their field of expertise. Telling stories about family members who overcame obstacles in their life can prove even more effective. Tell about the time and effort family members invested in creating a positive legacy for your family. Stories that reveal the time, effort, and persistence invested in overcoming obstacles are a powerful tool in building growth mindsets.

These four steps will help you build a growth mindset in your children…a growth mindset that will help them embrace the challenges of life, persist in the face of life’s obstacles, and experience growth!

The Top 6 Components of an Effective Apology

Let’s face it; we all make mistakes. We all do things in and to our families for which we need to apologize. It could be something as simple as forgetting to pick up the milk or as complex forgivenoteas feeling unloved. Whatever it is, an apology is in order. But, not just any apology will do. Research out of Ohio State explored what makes an apology effective. The study’s lead author, Roy Lewicki, completed two studies involving a total of 755 people and found an effective apology consists of six components. In each of the two studies, participants read a scenario that included an apology for a wrong committed. In both studies, the apologies containing more of the six components were considered more effective. At the same time, not all components were equal. Participants considered certain components more important than others.  So, for the top six components of an effective apology:

  • Number six and the least important component is…a request for forgiveness. Not surprising. After all, asking the other person to forgive me means I’m still thinking about myself. So, if one component is left out, this might be the one.
  • Numbers five, four, and three tied for third place in importance. So, the components of forgiveness landing in third place of importance are…expression of regret, an explanation of what went wrong, and a declaration of repentance. These components remain very important but are not enough by themselves. They need more. They’re all talk—expression, explanation, declaration. We need the component deemed number two in importance to move the apology to a new level and make it more effective.
  • Offering a repair. The second most influential component in an apology is offering to fix the wrong, to undo the damage. Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words. The offer to repair the wrong moves the apology into the realm of action.
  • And, finally, the number 1 component of an effective apology is…acknowledgement of responsibility. Clearly stating you made a mistake, accepting fault, and taking responsibility is the number one component of an effective apology. Avoid blame. Offer no excuses. Just accept fault and acknowledge responsibility.

These six components of an effective apology could help resolve disagreements in our family. And, thankfully, you can teach these skills to your family. Encourage one another to accept responsibility for wrongs committed. Help one another consider ways to make repairs for wrongs committed, whether committed unintentionally or intentionally. Perhaps the best way to teach these six skills is by example. Model the six components in your own life. Model, model, model…and model again.

3 Ways Giving Support Will Benefit Your Family

Paul was on his way to Rome when he called the elders of Ephesus to meet him. He wanted to offer one last message of encouragement to them. That message ended with these encourage-synonymswords: “…In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20:35).  A recent study confirmed the wisdom of this statement in regard to giving support to others.  Specifically, researchers from University of Pittsburgh and University of California (LA) asked 36 participants about receiving and giving support. Of course, both giving and receiving support led to fewer negative outcomes. But these researchers went a step further in their investigation. They used fMRI’s to assess the brain activation of participants engaged in at least three types of tasks.

  1. One task involved participants performing a “stressful mental math task.” During this task, the fMRI revealed that those who gave the most support to others had reduced activity in the brain areas related to stress response.
  2. Another group of participants looked at pictures of loved ones. In this scenario, fMRI’s revealed increased activity in the brain’s reward system for those who gave higher levels of support to others.
  3. A third group had a chance to win money for someone in need. In this group, fMRI’s also revealed increased activity in the brain’s reward system for those who gave higher levels of support.

In summary, giving support to those in need contributed to an improved ability to manage stress and an increased ability to enjoy reward, at least on a neurological level. Isn’t that a great benefit for families?  If we model giving support to others in the family and encourage our family to do the same, we promote more feelings of reward and fewer “stressed out” feelings. By supporting one another’s dreams you can bring a greater sense of reward into your family. Supporting one another when troubles arise will decrease family stress. We really can build a healthier family by giving and receiving support. But, in the long run, it is even better to give than receive!

The Countercultural Message of Marriage

I wonder what Jesus would say about marriage? Of course He did talk about marriage some. But, imagine if He had thrown a “section on marriage” into the Sermon on the Mount.

newly married couple chasing each other in field“You have heard it said,” Jesus might begin, “That marriage will complete you and make you whole. But I say to you that only your heavenly Father can complete you. Truly, truly, marriage is not a matter of addition in which half a person added to half a person makes a whole person. No, marriage is more like multiplication in which half a person times half a person results in only a quarter of a person.  Truly happy marriages are made up of two people already complete in God. Only one person complete in God with another person complete in God equals one complete marriage.”

“You have heard it said that you will live happily ever after once you’re married. Marriage can bring great joy, even a taste of the kingdom of God.  But, a marriage that brings great joy and happiness is built upon individual growth, character, and sacrifice. Truly I say to you that you will find joy and happiness in your marriage only to the extent you grow in God-like character and willingly make sacrifices to bring joy to your spouse.”

“You have heard it said that marriage, when founded on deep feelings of love, will be easily maintained. But I say to you that marriage is based on commitment. Passion will wax and wane. Intimacy will fluctuate with the seasons of marriage. But commitment will carry you through the difficult times and the low tides. Commitment will bring you through the valleys and lead you to the mountain tops of even greater intimacy and passion. Our Father created marriage and established it upon the principle of lifetime commitment, not the fickleness of human feelings that wax and wane.”

“You have heard it said that commitment in marriage is not necessary for great sex and deep intimacy. But I say to you that only within a committed, intimate marriage can two people stand before one another in total trust and security, willing to expose themselves on the deepest level. Honestly, it is over years of learning about one another that a couple learns how to please, how to touch, how to cherish, how to hold…how to experience deep intimacy and great sex.”

“You have heard it said that marriage will never last. After all, statistics suggest that a large number of marriages end in divorce. What’s going to make mine different? But I say to you again, marriage is founded on commitment. Remaining committed to your marriage involves effort. You must invest in marriage to make it last just as God the Father committed himself to, and invested Himself in, you. That investment is paid in currency of time, service, and affection, all given on a daily basis to your spouse.”

A healthy marriage really is countercultural. It is established on the principles of personal commitment, humility, service, sacrifice, and love. Such a relationship will have a positive impact on your children and leave a lasting impression on all those who have the joy of witnessing a godly marriage, a countercultural love.

Help My Children Have ANTs in Their Pants…uh, I Mean Brain

If you want to increase your children’s happiness and optimism, you must teach them to exterminate the ANTs—or Automatic Negative Thoughts.  Those ANTs scamper around our children’s thoughts and threaten their happiness and success. ANTs come in many varieties. Let me describe four.

  • Absolute, Permanent ANTs (the AP-ANTs). When stressful events or bad things happen, AP-ANTs shout things like “This always happens to me,” “It will never get better,” and “No one likes me.” Words like “always,” “never,” and “nothing” reveal the AP-ANTs and crush our children’s joy.
  • Critical ANTs (C-ANTs) throw words like “should” and “must” around in your children’s brains. They induce guilt by “shoulding” on them (as Albert Ellis would say). C-ANTs constantly point out flaws, limitations, and mistakes. They throw labels like “stupid,” “loser,” and “failure.” The C-ANTs make our children feel like they CAN’T do anything right.
  • Worry ANTs (W-ANTs) constantly ask “what if…” while anticipating the worst. They create tunnel vision for the negative possibilities and, in so doing, create extreme images of failure and catastrophe. Every mole hill becomes an overwhelming mountain that no one can climb. They bring to mind everything you don’t WANT to think about.
  • Pushover ANTs (P-ANTs) make us feel like victims. They use phrases like “I can’t” or “Nothing will ever change” or “I’ll never be able to….” These phrases make our children feel helpless and hopeless. They encourage our children to feel unworthy and inadequate.


You can imagine how these ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) eat away at your children’s happiness and success. So, how can you help exterminate the ANTs in your children’s brains?

  1. Exterminate the ANTs in your own brain. Children learn how to think from their parents. They emulate their parents’ thought patterns as they witness them in their parents’ speech and actions. So, exterminate the ANTs in your own brain. (You can do this by applying steps #2 and #3 to yourself as well as your children.)
  2. Become aware of the ANTs as they arise. Recognize the ANTs for what they are—pests that need exterminated. Listen for the ANTs in your own speech and the speech of your children. It’s hard to hear your children think; so it may be hard to hear the ANTs. But, you can discover the ANTs by probing a bit. Ask your children questions about what is going through their mind, what specifically is upsetting them about the situation, or what are they afraid of. Their answers to these questions may bring the ANTs out of hiding and to the surface where you can exterminate them.
  3. Challenge the ANTs. Don’t accept what the ANTs say at face value. Challenge them. Ask questions to clarify the truth. Ask the AP-ANTs, “Always? Really? What about the time…?” Confront the C-ANTs by asking for the reason you “should” and changing the “should” into an “I’d like.” Make the W-ANTs consider the most positive outcome possible to the “what if…” question. Make it too good to be true, even unbelievable. Remind the P-Ants that you do your best. Success is about effort, not the end result. In fact, we sometimes learn the best lessons from mistakes. So, enjoy the mistakes and keep moving forward (See how Louis Learned this from disaster in this video).
  4. Every time an ANT rears its ugly head and shouts its toxic message, repeat steps #2 and #3. Exterminate the ANT and replace it with a healthier, wiser, and more accurate thought.


As you teach your children to exterminate the ANTs in their life, you will see their happiness blossom, their efforts bloom, and their success take root. So start exterminating those ANTs today!

Build Forts to Build Mature Children

I lived near a very small (I mean, very small!) patch of woods for part of my elementary school and middle school years. I remember the joy of going “into the woods” and finding natural enclaves under bushes that I could make into “my fort.” A few minor adjustments and additions turned those branches into a naturally camouflaged hideout. I also remember “building forts” out of blankets, tables, and cushions in the house. As a father, I even joined my daughters in making forts during their elementary school years. In fact, fort building is a pretty universal activity among children.

Fort building flows from our children’s developmental needs and desires. During the middle years of elementary school, children start figuring out their nearby world. They want to understand how their home fits into the neighborhood and which streets and paths go from their home to other destinations. They also become more independent, developing a unique self, separate from their family and engaged in the world. All in all, it’s quite an adventure…and building an outside fort adds to the adventure. Even an indoor fort adds excitement to a rainy day and helps satisfy strong developmental needs like:

  • Fort building encourages independence. Children gain independence as they gather materials and build their forts however they like. They establish themselves as separate individuals by creating their own space in a unique design of their choice.
  • Fort building also develops practical skills. Children meet their “inner engineer’ and “construction worker” when building a fort. They learn what creates a sturdy fort, what protects against the wind, what holds materials together, what materials work best for various designs…. The list of practical skills our children learn while building forts goes on.
  • Fort building enhances cognitive skills like problem-solving, planning, and organization (which may come in handy when writing their high school papers).
  • Fort building also builds social skills like cooperation, negotiation, and teamwork.
  • Fort building provides unstructured play time filled with creativity and imagination. Unstructured play encourages self-discovery, self-control, and maturity (Read Make Your Child a Head Taller Than Himself for more on this).
  • Fort building establishes “my place,” a fortress against all the stresses and demands of the outside world. In this sense, fort building can relieve stress and build skills to manage emotions.
  • Don’t forget. Fort building is also just plain fun! We all love to see our kids having fun.

So, on a rainy day, encourage your children to build a fort in the basement, attic or family room. On a nice day, encourage your children to go outside, explore, and build a primo-fort in a secluded spot. Supply some materials and encourage the adventure. Then sit back and enjoy watching them develop skills while growing more mature!

A Fourfold Legacy for My Family

In my last blog I shared how people who have never seen a healthy family can begin to raise a healthy family themselves. In doing so, they redeem their family and set the coming generations on a new trajectory toward health and wholeness. In this blog, I wanted to share a brief overview of the fourfold legacy I strive to leave for my family.

  • African American Family Parents and ChildrenI want to leave my family a legacy of physical health. That may sound trite, but I want my family to have an example of the self-discipline necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I want them to experience the flavors, joys, and energy of a healthy diet. I want them to know the benefits of good sleep hygiene and rest. I want to model an active lifestyle while making time for appropriate rest. Not an active lifestyle for the purpose of scholarships or advancement. A simple active lifestyle for the purpose of healthy living.
  • I want to leave my family a relational legacy. This will include modeling a marital relationship filled with love, respect, and commitment. It will also involve relating to my children through encouragement and support, listening and affirming, accepting and acknowledgement. I want to build healthy family relationships of celebration and joy by enforcing appropriate boundaries, limits, and values. I want to build an intimate relationship with each family member that will build a sense of belonging and joy.
  • I want to leave an emotional legacy for my family. An emotional legacy includes celebration and fun as well as the ability and discipline to express and respond to emotions like anger in a healthy, gracious manner. This legacy demands I learn to express my emotions in a respectful manner as well as modeling the vulnerability of humbly expressing my emotions in a healthy manner.
  • I want to leave a spiritual legacy for my family. I want to leave a spiritual legacy of service, grace, and integrity through my words and actions. I want the spiritual legacy I leave to be undergirded by the work of Christ in my life and the life of my family. So, I encourage our family to worship together, pray together, learn together, forgive one another, and “outdo one another in showing honor.”

We could expand each of these areas and explore ways to leave this legacy. But, I leave the details to you. How will you leave this fourfold legacy for your family? How will you begin today?

Healthy Family? Never Saw One

Struggling couples often arrive at my office caught up in a cycle of defensiveness, criticism, shame, hurt, and anger. After some information gathering, I might ask the couple who they know with a marriage they want to emulate. Too many (way too many) say they have Pointing fingers at each othernever seen a good marriage. They name couples they know and after each one list the problems: divorced, domestic violence, never talk anymore, had an affair, sleep in different parts of house…the list goes on. I am saddened each time. No one (don’t miss that phrase—NO ONE) has left them the legacy of a healthy marriage. I hear similar responses when I ask parents about the adults who parented them, responses like verbally abusive, physically abusive, molested me, left me, never knew them, always yelling at me, hated me, etc. These responses break my heart.

Perhaps you are a person who would give similar answers, a person who has no legacy of healthy family passed on to you. What can you do when raising your own family? You can start anew.  You can redeem your family. I tell the couples and parents I meet that they have a wonderful opportunity to start a new chapter in their family life, to point the trajectory of their family toward a new and healthier horizon. You can do the same. You begin by forgiving.  Accept that your family hurt you and forgive them. Find a way to resolve that hurt for yourself. I know you have suffered loss and hurt, but take time to recognize what your family lost through these actions as well—the sadness that must have existed in their life and the joy they missed out on. Turn all the hurt over to God, your hurt and your family’s hurt. Pray for those who hurt you and let God, the one who judges righteously, take care of the rest.

Second, read some good books on marriage and parenting. If you don’t know what books to get, check out the ones on our website. Read a book a year and implement the ideas as you go along. You might even find another couple or family who would like to read the book with you. Make it a double date night to talk about and practice the skills you learn from the book.

Third, attend a marriage or parenting workshop. Churches and communities often hold parenting and marriage workshops. You can learn so much and have a great experience by attending one. Along the way, you might meet some people who have healthy marriages and take joy in parenting. You can become friends and begin to witness the joys and pleasures of healthy family through their lives.

Fourth, consider seeing a therapist. A therapist can help you develop a healthy vision of family. He or she can introduce you to healthy ways of interacting with your spouse and children. A therapist can also help you resolve past hurts that interfere with your marriage and parenting.

These four steps can set you on a path to a new family. You will even become an example of healthy family for your children and for those around you who have no healthy example. It all begins by forgiving the past, forgetting what lies behind, and moving on toward a new goal. When we do, we build a new family legacy for our children and our children’s children!