I read a blog from Greater Good entitled What Happens to Kids When Parents Fight. It is an excellent article and well worth the read. You can read it by clicking here. The author notes that children pay close attention to their parents’ emotions. They carefully observe their parents’ interactions and determine how safe the family unit is based on those interactions. Four tactics parents use in fighting are destructive to our children’s sense of security in the family: verbal aggression, physical aggression, silent tactics, and capitulation. These four tactics harm children. In addition, conflict left unresolved leaves children feeling insecure. On the other hand, when parents avoid these four tactics as they argue and resolve their disagreement, children actually feel more emotionally secure after the argument than they were prior to the argument. So, the arguing is not what harms your children. How parents argue has the potential to harm or help. All of this background leads to my favorite quote in the whole blog:
“…many child behavior problems can be solved not by focusing on the child, or even the parent-child relationship, but simply by improving the quality of the parents’ relationship alone, which strengthens children’s emotional security.”
The first step to well-behaved children is improving the quality of your relationship with their other parent. Develop a relationship marked by respect, honor, and acceptance. Resolve conflict in a healthy way. Admire your spouse’s abilities. Acknowledge your spouse’s wisdom. Express gratitude for all your spouse does. These actions will lead to better behaved children. If you and your children’s other parent are separated or divorced, you can still treat one another with the same respect, honor, and acceptance. You can still create a relationship with your co-parenting partner that will increase your children’s sense of security and safety. It’s the first step in effective discipline. It’s a crucial step in guiding your children toward maturity!
I’m always on the lookout for family activities; but, I’m often surprised by the multiple benefits some simple family activities produce. For instance, taking the family to a “green area” (an area covered with grass with trees, birds, the singing of locusts, and sunshine) has huge benefits for you and your family. You can enjoy a cookout, play Frisbee, sit around and talk, hike…whatever you want in the “green area.” It’s all a wonderful, fun time. But, did you know that spending just 30 minutes a week in a “green area” can lead to lower rates of depression and lower rates of high blood pressure. That’s right. A recent study actually estimated that we could reduce cases of depression in the city by 7% and incidents of high blood pressure by 9% if everyone spent 30 minutes a week in a “green area.” Even more, this study revealed that the more frequently people visit a “green area,” the greater their sense of social cohesion. In other words, the more time people spend outdoors in grassy, wooded areas the more they will work to promote the well-being of others, include others, create a sense of belonging, and promote trust. (Read the study at Health Benefits from Nature Experiences Depend on Dose)
You may be wondering…what this all has to do with family? It brings to mind a suggestion, a prescription if you will. Find a grassy wooded area near your home and visit it with your family once a week. Have a picnic. Go for a walk. Fly a kite. Sit together and read. Paint a picture of the scenery. Whatever you want, but do it outdoors with your family. If you do it once a week you have decreased the chances of depression and high blood pressure in your family. That sounds a like something I want to pass on to my kids! In addition, this study would suggest that playing outdoors as a family also creates an environment where each family member will feel a greater sense of belonging and trust. They will watch out for one another. In other words, they will feel a greater sense of security, trust, and belonging. I don’t know about you, but I want that for my family…and spending time in a “green spot” can help make it happen. So, consider this your prescription for a “green area.” Identify a “green spot” near your home. Visit it often with your spouse for a romantic walk, with your kids for a rambunctious game of tag, or with your whole family for an enjoyable picnic. Do this for 30 minutes once a week for a happy, carefree, intimate family.
I’m really not surprised by the findings of this study when I think about it…but it took four studies to bring this information to light. Unfortunately, it seems to be some of the common knowledge that has been lost over the last several generations. Research out of the University of Chicago—Booth School of Business explored the impact of sharing food on feelings of closeness, trust, cooperation, and negotiation. The findings from these four studies suggest at least three things. (Read the study here)
- Eating similar foods with another person increases a sense of closeness and trust between them.
- Eating similar food leads to greater cooperation, a greater willingness to compromise, and faster resolution of differences.
- When a person gives information (in the form of a testimonial or advertisement), the information they give is trusted more when the speaker eats similar food as the listener.
These studies were done in terms of business and the authors made several applications to business. But what does it mean for families? First, I think it reminds us that the family meal is a wonderful time to build closeness and trust. As we sit down with our families to a meal in which we all eat “similar foods,” we can discuss ideas and happenings. We build trust. We cooperate and compromise in resolving minor differences.
Second, when you need to have a serious family discussion, put out some snacks to eat while you talk. Everyone does not have to eat the exact same food, but similar foods like “sweet” food, “salty” food, pizza (even with various toppings), noodles…you get the idea. By supplying similar food for everyone to eat, you create an environment geared toward:
- Increased closeness and trust
- Greater cooperation
- Greater likelihood of listening to one another’s points of view
- A greater willingness to compromise and reach a resolution more quickly.
This may all sound silly, but think about a scenario with me. Your 17-year-old daughter has been consistently coming in after curfew. So, you set out some crackers and cheese before asking her to sit down to talk with you. You pour her a glass of her favorite pop and share crackers and cheese while talking about her growing up and becoming more independent, the continued need for curfew, what she wants, and what you want. Imagine that conversation as compared to one in which you sit down with her at a bare table to talk about curfews.
- Which will promote defensiveness and which will encourage cooperation?
- Which will contribute to arguing and which might encourage listening?
- Which will likely lead to escalating emotions and which will promote remaining calm?
- Which promotes asserting my needs and which encourages respecting one another?
The answer seems plain to me. Eating together can help us resolve our differences and reach an agreement more easily. It may not produce a miracle, but it can sure help reach a respectful understanding and connection. Give it a try and see what happens.
Over the years of observing families, I’ve noticed a couple of interesting things about children and their interests. I’m sure you’ve noticed them as well.
- Children playing on a cell phone, watching TV, or playing a video game do NOT listen well. They are preoccupied with their TV show, game, text, or pic on the screen. They can sit right next to you, playing on their mobile device, and totally block you out. They don’t listen.
- Children love boxes and blocks and dress up clothes. They have great fun with objects that can become whatever they imagine. In fact, I’ve seen preschoolers more interested in the box their gift came in than the gift itself!
These two observations got me thinking. Parents spend a lot of money on mobile devices, TV’s, X-Boxes, etc. Our children delve into these devices. While engaged on their devices, they interact face-to-face with other people less often. They engage in less hands-on activities. They explore the world beyond the screen less often. They even stumble across videos we don’t want them to see.
But, when you give children some empty Tupperware, old boxes, blocks, crayons, and paper they create amazing things. They become curious and imaginative. They explore ways of using the material. They create forts, planes, and dinner out of the same “raw materials.” These “open-ended” materials, or what Magda Gerber calls “passive toys,” become the raw ingredients of imaginative play, explorations, and new ideas. And, in the midst of creating all this, they talk with one another. They share ideas. They ask for help. They negotiate, compromise, and problem solve…together! As they engage, combine, and re-engage these simple objects, they learn and grow. They have fun, too.
I love the poster from Let the Children Play. It explains the benefits of “passive toys” with a simple acronym.
- Passive toys help children become better PROBLEM-SOLVERS.
- Passive toys engage children in ACTIVE LEARNING.
- Passive toys encourage SELF-INITIATED play and SENSORY EXPERIENCES.
- Passive toys SUPPORT SCHEMAS. They support what children already know and how they already think while supporting them to move up another level in their thought life. As Vygotsky used to say, “In play, a child becomes a child a head taller than himself.” (Read Make Your Child A Head Taller Than Himself for more info)
- Passive toys throw open the doors for INVENTION, INVESTIGATION, and IMAGINATION.
- Passive toys are VERSATILE, which nurtures creativity.
- Passive toys encourage EXPERIMENTATION and EXPLORATION.
I’m not against some screen time, but what video game or TV show can do all that!
Do you want happy children? How about children who are academically competent? Would you like your children to have a great sense of security today and a greater chance of wealth in the future? Or, maybe you want children who make positive moral choices. Well, you can have all this by practicing this parenting style! It’s true. A study involving 5,000 responders (learn more here) identified key parenting factors that promote happiness, academic competence, a sense of security, wealth, and moral choices. The parenting style that combined all these factors and contributed to all these wonderful outcomes is “supportive parenting.” Specifically, supportive parenting includes the following key factors.
- Spending time with our children. Children spell love T.I.M.E. Spending time with our children communicates how much we value and love them. It also provides us the opportunity to guide them and teach them our values through example and discussion.
- Being responsive to our children. By spending time with our children we come to know them better. We learn about our children’s needs and the subtle ways in which they express those needs. As a result, we can respond to those needs more effectively. In other words, we become present in their lives, aware of their needs, and responsive to those needs. Our children develop trust and security in response. They become more confident and assured, knowing their needs will be satisfied.
- Exhibiting confidence in our children. As supportive parents, we believe the best about our children’s ability to learn and grow. By spending time with them and responding to their needs, we have nurtured a relationship that inspires them to do their best and motivates them to try hard. We trust them to actually do their best. As a result, we allow them age appropriate independence and trust their ability to make wise choices. We have confidence that they will learn from mistakes…and we let them do so.
- Balanced rules. This study revealed that adults who grew up in overly-strict homes with an abundance of rules became less happy and more stressed than adults who grew up in homes focused on relationships and balanced rules. Rules simply set the parameters of safety. Relationships instill those values. Natural consequences teach wise decision making. Relationships help us internalize that wisdom. So, supportive families implement balanced rules to support safety and growth while making large investments in relationship.
If you want your children to grow into happy, academically competent, wealthy adults who make positive moral choices, put these four factors of supportive parenting into practice today. You will enjoy a more fulfilling relationship with your children and enjoy watching them succeed in the future!
Every married couple will experience conflict. Spouses disagree. Fortunately, the University of Waterloo is discovering ways to promote the successful resolution of that conflict. Here are two research based exercises they suggest for resolving marital conflict in a positive way:
- The Fly on the Wall. When you find yourself in conflict with your spouse, take a breath, step back, and look at it from the perspective of a third party (the proverbial “fly on the wall”). Stepping out of your personal perspective and intentionally looking at the situation from a third person perspective leads to less biased decisions and judgments. It leads to “wiser reasoning” as well. Specifically, it increases a person’s awareness of the limits of their own knowledge and of the changing context of the conflict. It contributes to the person’s willingness to acknowledge their partner’s point of view; and, perhaps most important, it makes a person more willing to seek a way of integrating their two points of view into a common solution. That “fly on the wall” is a smart dude…and can help reduce the conflict in your marriage. (Read a review of the study here.)
- Go Back to the Future. Another way to reduce conflict is to focus on the future. Imagine how you will feel one year from now. By doing so, you shift away from the current emotions of conflict and disagreement and allow yourself to focus more on the foundational emotions of your relationship. Couples that intentionally take time to focus on the future of their relationship during conflict become more positive about their relationship. They open up more to forgiving and being forgiven. They even reinterpret the conflict in a more positive light. So take a trip to the future and come back to a more positive relationship. (Check out this study here.)
Maybe, if you really want to resolve conflict quickly, you can focus on the future of a fly on the wall…never mind, that doesn’t end well. Just take a third person perspective of your conflict (as though you were a fly on the wall) and focus on the future of your relationship. With those two exercises you can enjoy a long, loving relationship with your spouse!
Establishing a healthy family is a balancing act. It requires finding the best blend between diametrically opposed traits. For instance, a healthy family finds balance in at least these three areas:
- A healthy family lives in the balance between structure and freedom. Too much structure and a family becomes rigid. Spontaneous fun and laughter disappear. Family members feel trapped and imprisoned by the constant demands of an imposed and unbending structure. Too much freedom, on the other hand, and a family experiences chaos. Limits and boundaries become broken or even disappear. Predictability flies out the window and, as a result, family members experience insecurity, confusion, and even fear. Healthy families find a balance between these two extremes by establishing a flexible structure. Flexible structure provides a daily family schedule and daily routines while leaving room for down time and unstructured play. It leaves open the possibility of making adjustments as situations and circumstances change. A flexible structure provides the best of both worlds: structure and freedom.
- A healthy family lives in the balance between connection and independence. Too
much connection and family members becomes entangled and boxed in. They feel intruded upon, unable to develop their distinct interests or pursue their individual opportunities. No one can develop their individuality, their unique character. Each person in the family will even experience great difficulty establishing their identity. Move too far toward independence, however, and family members find themselves alone, isolated, and without support. They have no one with whom they can enjoy life, no one to help them develop as unique individuals. We need relationships to discover our own identity. Healthy families find balance between these two extremes by developing interdependence. Interdependence empowers family members to engage one another and enjoy individual time. Relationships become the springboard for individual identity development by providing a safe harbor from which to explore interests and ideas as well as a safe haven in which to find comfort and reassurance. Interdependent relationships become the place of safety, comfort, encouragement, and empowerment for each individual and the family as a whole.
- A healthy family lives in the balance between “mine” and “yours.” Too much focus on “mine” and family members becomes self-absorbed and self-centered. Stinginess undermines sharing. Greediness leads to excessive competition for resources that everyone perceives as limited. But, when the focus turns completely to “yours,” at least one person becomes a doormat. After time, she will feel taken for granted and used. Eventually, she will rebel. She may lash out in anger or shut down in defeat, bitter and resentful. The whole family suffers as a result. Healthy families balance “mine” and “yours” with “ours.” Finding “ours” is no easy task. It requires a growing knowledge of each family member. It demands a long-term vision, a willingness to postpone “my own” agenda and even sacrifice for the good of the family. In short, finding “ours” requires love and acceptance. “Ours” presupposes differences but learns to tolerate, accept, and even celebrate those differences as opportunities to learn, love, and serve.
How does your family balance these three areas?
I worked as a school-based therapist in an inner-city middle school for several years. It was a great experience. I met many wonderful students and amazing teachers. Still, at times I thought we missed the mark when responding to students’ misbehavior. For example, one day a group of girls had a “wet paper towel party” in the bathroom. They soaked paper towels in water and threw them against the walls and ceiling. Soaked with water, these wads of paper towels stuck to every surface they hit. The girls left the bathroom a mess, globs of wet paper towels hanging all over the surface of walls and ceiling. The staff chose to suspend the girls for three days as a consequence. By simply suspending these young ladies, we missed an opportunity to teach them an important lesson. They enjoyed three days off school and, at best, learned how to have irresponsible fun and get a vacation. Perhaps we would have taught a more important lesson by offering a consequence directly connected to their behavior. For instance, a more logical consequence of the girls’ behavior would have been keeping them after school for three days to help the custodian clean the bathrooms. This would more likely teach the girls respect for property and personal responsibility while encouraging more responsible decision-making in the future.
The same principal of consequences applies at home when we discipline our children. Simply sending a child to their room for a day or grounding them for a week does little to encourage responsible decision making in the future. Instead, offer a consequence related to the misbehavior, a logical consequence. Let them fix it, clean it, replace it, or lose it…whichever represents a logical result of their behavior. Let me give you some examples:
- When your child refuses to get up for school, let them get to school late and suffer the usual consequences for tardiness.
- When your child waits until the last minute to complete a project and then does not have the needed materials, don’t rush out to get it. Let them find a way to get it or suffer the consequences of an incomplete school project.
- If your child does not finish their assigned chore, let them stay in (not playing their video game or watching TV or some other “fun” activity) until it is done.
- If your child refuses to eat an appropriate amount of their supper, they miss out on dessert.
- If your child breaks a window, they can work to earn the money to replace it and help in the actual replacement of it.
These all represent logical consequences. However, sometimes the results of misbehavior offer consequences enough. We simply need to step back and allow those natural consequences to happen rather than bail them out. Here are a few examples of natural consequences:
- Your child refuses to eat and they go hungry until the next meal.
- Your child refuses to wear a jacket on a cold morning and they get cold.
- Your child does not hand in his homework and he gets a lower grade in that class.
- Your child gets angry and breaks their phone (or is careless and loses it), so they do not have a phone until the next contract comes up.
- Your teen driver carelessly has a fender bender so they have no mode of transportation while the car is fixed.
Using logical and natural consequences take effort on the part of the parent. We have to stay calm and allow the natural consequence to occur or we have to think of an appropriate logical consequence. But, the results are well worth the extra time and effort. What’s the result? A child who learns from their mistakes and makes adjustments in their behavior to avoid the consequences in the future. In other words, a wise child!
A study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Read Article Abstract Here) revealed a simple way to increase your spouse’s sexual desire for you…and you can do it anywhere! Here it is: the secret to increasing your spouse’s sexual desire for
you. You can increase your spouse’s sexual desire for you by being responsive to them outside the bedroom. The authors of this study exposed their findings after having 100 heterosexual couples keep a 6-week diary recording their own sexual desires and the responsiveness of their partner outside the bedroom. Responsiveness emerged as a key factor in maintaining sexual desire over time. Responsiveness to our spouses reveals a deep concern for their welfare and an awareness of what they really care about. It exhibits a willingness to invest emotionally and mentally in the relationship, making the relationship feel special, unique. When you respond to your spouse’s wants and desires, you also communicate his/her special value in your life. All in all, this leads to increased sexual desire. And guys, the effect was bigger for women. So, the more responsive you are to your wife’s wants and needs outside the bedroom, the greater sexual desire she will feel. Need I say more?