A study reported in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology suggested an interesting way to prevent the common cold. It’s all natural…no medications, no formulas. Even more, you can experience this in your life. There’s a good chance you already have. It’s very simple. It was explored in this study involving 47 women, blood samples, and questionnaires about relationships. What is this “cure for the common cold”? Falling in love. That’s right. When the women in this study “fell in love,” they experienced a boost in their immune system, especially the immune system involved in antiviral defenses. Of course, this does not guarantee improved immunity for the lifetime of a marriage. This study only showed improved immunity for those “falling” in love, those in the honeymoon stage, not those who experience long-term love. The research team plans to look at the health implications of long-term love relationships in future studies. But I wonder…. I have “fallen in love” over and over again during my 27-year marriage. It seems that new experiences and special moments bring out the feelings of “new love” all over again. A special night at a romantic restaurant…a weekend getaway for “just the two of us”…a romantic trip to a new location…a walk through the park hand in hand…it all sparks those feelings of new love, of falling in love. So, I wonder…could those experiences boost our immunity to defend against the common cold? I don’t know for sure. I guess I’ll have to wait for the research. But, in the meantime, I’m going to plan a few more romantic getaways…just in case. After all, those romantic getaways are a whole lot more fun than the common cold. (For other benefits of love read The Superpower You Can Give Your Spouse.)
Archive for August 31, 2019
Teach Your Child to NOT Take the Bait
You’ve seen it. Your teen and a friend get into a little squabble. They have a minor disagreement. Suddenly, your teen’s friend drops the bait—they make an outlandish accusation, they make some outlandish statement that will arouse unnecessary emotions, or they make an inappropriate and irritating gesture. You think to yourself, “Don’t take the bait….” But your teen takes the bait and they’re hooked. Their friend takes control of the argument while reeling in your teen. Your teen escalates to crush the bait but it’s too late. The hook is set. Self-control turns to thrashing and the whole interaction goes downhill. No one wants their children or teen to get caught in that situation. Instead, we want to teach our teens to avoid taking the bait.
Fortunately, the best way to teach our teens is by example; and, when it comes to NOT taking the bait, our teens will give us an unlimited supply of opportunities to teach them by example. What parent has not found themselves hooked by the bait their teen’s simple eyeroll, angsty accusation, or under the breath comment. Face it, our teens bait us. They try to hook us, take control of the argument, and reel us in to their net. If we take their bait, emotions escalate. Disagreements increase. We fight to maintain control. In the process, our communications decrease, our relationship suffers, and our teens learn nothing. So, teach your teen to NOT take the bait by setting a good example. Do NOT take their bait. Here are some tips to help.
- Avoid the emotional bait. We love our teens. They will say things that arouse our fear, anger, helplessness, or sense of inadequacy. They seem skilled at it. Do NOT take the bait. Stay calm. Keep your emotions in check. Stay focused on what your teen is trying to communicate, their underlying message. If you feel yourself getting lost in the emotions your teen arouses in you, find the support of a spouse or friend to help resolve that emotional bait.
- Avoid the bait of “taking it personal.” Our teens naturally pull away from us during their teen years. It’s normal and appropriate. In the process, they will think us “stupid” and “too old to understand.” They will roll their eyes at our “naïveté” and shrug their shoulders with an “I don’t care” attitude. They will respond with more angst and anger than they even intend. You will long for that loving, affection grade school child, but your teen is growing toward independence. Do NOT take it personal. It’s not about you. It’s part of their development. Do NOT take the bait of their teen angst and drama.
- Avoid the “tit-for-tat” bait. Your teen may let some harsh statements fly. Do NOT take the bait. Do NOT return “tit-for-tat.” Remember, you are the stronger, more mature person. If you take this bait, you inadvertently send the message that their words are stronger than you. This creates a feeling of insecurity for them. So, don’t take it personal. Do NOT take the bait. Avoid “tit-for-tat.” Give them high regard, even when they sink to harsh statements. Show them kindness with firm boundaries, even when they say mean, irritating things. Show them how to NOT take the bait.
- Avoid the bait of power. Our teens job is to assert their independence, their individual power to control their own lives. We still want to protect and teach, but they want to try out and learn. We want to help them solve their problem, but they want to learn to solve the problem on their own. When we take the power bait and try to teach or solve their problem for them, we often end up making a power play that pits us in a power struggle with out teen. Do NOT get into the power struggle. Step back. Let them have age appropriate control. Ask them how they are going to solve the problem. Ask them what they want to do. Offer suggestions but let them have age appropriate power. Do NOT take the power bait.
As you can see, we get plenty of opportunities to teach our children how to NOT take the bait. Interestingly, they provide the bait for us to NOT take. So, practice well and teach them well. They’ll be glad you did.
How Emotions Build or Destroy Trust in Your Family
We all want to have a home environment that allows us to trust one another. You know, a home in which spouses trust one another, siblings trust one another, children trust their parents, and parents trust their children. A home environment in which we can trust what someone says. We know they will not lie. They will follow through on what they have promised. We know they have the best interest of the family in mind.
A trusting environment in our homes requires more than trustworthy individuals. It also requires our capacity to trust others. Interestingly, that’s not as simple as it sounds. For example, emotions impact our capacity to trust others. A recent study suggested that negative emotions like anger or frustration reduce our willingness to trust other people even when these negative emotions were elicited by events that did not even involve the person we struggle to trust. For instance, annoyance created by sitting in a traffic jam may reduce our capacity to trust other people in our lives.
That study aroused my curiosity, so I looked at another group of five studies. These studies revealed that:
- Happy emotions increase our trust more than sadness or anger.
- Only “experienced emotions” increased or decreased our trust of others. Thinking about an emotion did not impact our trust. But, dwelling on an incident that arouses happiness, sadness, or anger did. And, once again, happiness increased trust while sadness or anger decreased trust.
- Gratitude also increased our capacity to trust others while pride, guilt, and anger reduced our capacity to trust others. And, those emotions that involve others (like anger and gratitude) had a greater impact on our levels of trust than emotions that were more personal (like pride or guilt).
- If the cause of the negative or positive emotion is made known, it does not impact our capacity to trust the person we are currently with. For instance, if I am talking to a coworker after having experienced the annoyance of sitting in a traffic jam, I may have a reduced capacity to trust him. However, if one of us points out how annoyed I am about sitting in the traffic, the impact on my capacity to trust the other person disappears. I can now trust based solely on the current interaction.
- Finally, the more familiar we are with a person, the less our emotions will impact our capacity to trust them. We are more likely to base our trust on past experiences with the person we know rather than any momentary emotion we might experience.
What does this have to do with families? We can apply several principles from these findings to increase levels of trust in our family.
- Focus on building relationships with each family member. When we have a relationship (when we are familiar with a person) our capacity to trust them is less affected by immediate emotions and based more on our long-term experience with them. Build a history of trustworthiness with your family. Follow through on your promises. Tell the truth. Act in accordance with the best interest of your family. The more our families know us, the less their immediate emotions will impact their capacity to trust us.
- Fill your home with positive emotions like gratitude, joy, and curiosity. Make it a practice to show gratitude daily. Become curious about each family members interests and likes. Encourage their interests and hobbies. Play. After all, positive emotions increase our capacity to trust.
- When your spouse, child, or parent is upset, tired or angry, postpone any discussion and simply remain available to them. Set aside your own agenda and respond to their emotion. Offer support and encouragement. Doing so will allow them to work through the negative emotions they are feeling and preserve the trust you have in one another.
- When you or another family member experience a negative emotion, make it explicit. Label the emotion and identify the trigger of that emotion. By doing so you keep it from interfering with the trust in your immediate relationship and interaction.
- Finally, enjoy the trust you have nurtured and built in your family with the help of emotions!
The Superpower You Can Give Your Spouse
I love love…and I love reading experiments about the power of love to influence our lives. If love is powerful, then the love of a spouse is a superpower. For instance, researchers at Brigham Young University subjected 40 couples to intentionally challenging tasks on the computer while measuring their pupil diameter (a rapid and direct measure of the body’s physiological level of stress). In one group, an individual from the couple worked alone on the task. In a second group, the person’s spouse sat near them and held their hand while they worked on the task. Both groups were initially stressed BUT the group that held hands with a loving spouse calmed down much more quickly. As a result, they were able to work on the task with reduced stress levels. Just having a loving spouse nearby holding their hand reduced their stress. That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.
In her book Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson refers to several studies that show the power of love.
- A study by Mario Mikulincer of Bar-Ilan University in Israel monitored the heart rates of couples as they responded to scenarios of couples in conflict. Those who felt close to their partners (who knew the superpower of a spouse’s love) reported feeling less angry and attributed less malicious intent to the partner. They expressed more problem-solving initiative and made greater effort to reconnect. In other words, a partner’s love decreased feelings of anger and increased the perception of positive intent, even during arguments. That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.
- In addition, the power of love led to a greater curiosity and willingness to try new things. That willingness to explore and have adventures with the one we love increases intimacy and personal growth. That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.
- Jim Coyne, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania concluded from the research that the love people share with their spouse is a good a predictor of survival at four years after congestive heart failure. In fact, it’s as good of a predictor of survival as the severity of the symptoms and impairment caused by the congestive heart failure. In other words, the power of a loving spouse is at least as powerful, if not more powerful, as congestive heart failure. That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.
- One of my favorite studies in this area shows the power love has over pain. At the University of Virginia women received MRI brain scans while under the threat of possibly receiving a small electric shock on their feet. You can imagine the stress of this threat. When a loving partner held the women’s hands, they registered less stress on the MRI. When they did receive a small shock, they experienced less pain! The happier (the more loving) the relationship, the more pronounced the effect. In other words, the power of love is stronger than shock, stress, and pain! That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.
Maybe Huey Lewis was on to something when he sang, “that’s the power of love.” Or, maybe he needed to change the lyrics to “that’s the superpower of a loving spouse.” Then again, that just doesn’t rhyme. Nonetheless, the love of a spouse is a superpower…and I’m going to share that superpower with my spouse. How about you?
Parents, Are You a Buzz-Killer or a Responsive Encourager
As parents, we want our children to learn and grow. After all, who wants to spoon-feed a child for twenty years? No, we want them to learn and grow, to become independent and self-sufficient, responsible and mature. And do you know how children learn? They learn by exploring…and they explore everything. From the time they start putting things in their mouths they are exploring and learning about themselves, the people around them, and their environment. Unfortunately, we sometimes hinder their exploring, and their learning as a result, without even knowing it. Let me give you an example taken from an experiment completed at the University of Washington. One hundred fifty toddlers (15-months-old) sat on their parent’s lap while an experimenter sat across from them demonstrating how to use various toys. This experimenter was a “responsive encourager.” The “responsive encourager” showed the toddler the toys’ movable parts and how the toys made sounds. They rattled and buzzed and moved the toys around in response to the toddler’s excitement. The toddlers were intrigued. They leaned forward and pointed. They wanted to explore (aka—explore) the toy. But alas, a second experimenter, the “buzz-killer,” entered the room and sat nearby. The “buzz-killer” complained about the toys. The “buzz-killer” grumbled, complained, and angrily called the toys aggravating and annoying. (You can watch a variation of this experiment on video here. Notice how the child’s whole affect changes!)
The toddlers were then given the opportunity to play with the toys. One group of toddlers were allowed to play with the toys while the “buzz-killer ” sat nearby and watched them or read a magazine with a neutral facial expression. These children hesitated to play with the toys. They appeased the “buzz-killer” by limiting their exploration of the toy. They hesitated to explore the moving parts and the noises. They hesitated to engage in behaviors that would let them learn about the new toy and their environment.
A second group of toddlers had the chance to play with the toys while the buzz-killer left the room or turned her back so she couldn’t see what the children were doing. This group “eagerly grabbed the toys” and began to play with them. They imitated what the first experimenter, the “responsive encourager,” had shown them. They explored the moving parts. They explored the noises. They manipulated the toy and learned about it. They learned how it worked and they made it work. They explored and learned just as the “responsive encourager” had hoped.
Sometimes we complain about our children’s exploration. We become the “buzz-killer.” They make too much noise; we grumble. Their behaviors are aggravating and annoying; we scowl. They ask too many questions; we sigh. They get into too much stuff; we huff and puff. But when we grumble and complain, act annoyed and yell, we become the “buzz-killer” who hinders their exploration…and their learning. We hold them back from learning about their world, themselves, and the people around them. We become the “buzz-killer” in the room hindering our children’s growth.
Yes. There are times we need to set limits. There are times we will ask our children to explore more quietly, at a different time, or in a different room because we are tired or don’t feel well or just need some peace and quiet. However, we want our general response to be that of the “responsive encourager.” We want to encourage exploration, even participate and stimulate greater exploration. Because when our children explore, they learn and grow. So which are you? A “buzz-killer” who hinders learning and growth or a “responsive encourager” who promotes learning and growth?
A Marital Battle: Radical Generosity or Self Seeking
Two ancient sayings have been on my mind lately. Both sayings are recorded by Paul, a Jewish follower of Christ. And, although neither one is written in the context of marriage, they both have a profound impact on our marriages. The first saying is short and sweet: “Love is not self-seeking.” The second one reminds us that “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap bountifully.”
I hate to admit it, but sometimes I get tired and irritable. When I’m tired and irritable, I don’t want to be generous. I don’t want to sow a smile or a kind word or an act of service. Instead, I want to sulk, give short and even sarcastic responses, or isolate. In other words, I become self-seeking. I watch out for “my own personal interests” and desires. In the process, I neglect my spouse. I don’t pay attention to her needs or struggles she may have encountered during the day. You’ve had those days, haven’t you? We all have. If I am going to be totally honest, sometimes I become self-seeking even when I’m not tired and irritable. I just look out for myself sometimes because…well, because I just want things to go my way. How about you? Ever had that experience?
Unfortunately, we also reap what we sow. When we selfishness, we reap disconnection in response. When we sow a sarcastic response or an isolating action in our irritability, we reap sorrow, distance, and maybe even some criticism from our spouse. Our relationship grows more disconnected in response to the seeds of self-seeking behaviors we sow. Intimacy suffers as weeds of loneliness grow deeper roots and we reap sharper thorns. If we allow this self-seeking behavior to continue to grow, we may find ourselves simply engaging in physical intimacy to satisfy our own needs more often than we express love in our intimacy. In general, sowing seeds of self-seeking behaviors reaps disconnection, emotional distance, frustration, and anger.
So, what can end the sowing of self-seeking behaviors? Sow seeds of radical generosity instead. Yes, radical generosity is generosity sown in the hard times, the times we feel tired, irritable, and selfish. Showing generosity to our spouse in the good times is relatively easy. But sharing generosity with our spouse when we are tired, irritable, feeling disconnected, or simply feeling selfish is radical! And when we sow radical generosity, we reap radical intimacy and connection. Radical generosity means giving your spouse a hug and kiss upon returning home, especially when we’re tired. Radical generosity gives a kind answer rather than a short, sarcastic response even when we’re irritable. Radical generosity seeks to give pleasure to our spouse rather than simply seeking our own release and pleasure. Radical generosity serves even when tired. Radical generosity sows all these seeds of kindness, affection, and service while wearing a smile. Radical generosity is the opposite of self-seeking; it is loving. Radical generosity will sow seeds of kindness, service, and love into their marriage in great abundance and reap the same in a bountiful return. Sow some radical generosity into your marriage today and watch the bountiful harvest of love and intimacy grow! I going to go share some radical generosity now…by helping prepare lunch. What about you?
What Bullies & Their Victims Have in Common…Really?
I know it’s a bit of a risk to say, but bullies and their victims have some similarities. At least that’s what a recent study completed by researchers from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg suggests. The researchers obtained data from the World Health Organization who had interviewed approximately 3,000 adolescents from various countries. Specifically, the researchers used data from the United States (an individualistic society), Greece (a collectivist society), and Germany (which is between individualistic and collectivistic). In each of these countries, both victims of bullying and the perpetrators of bullying had several things in common.
- They were both more likely to use alcohol and tobacco.
- They were both more likely to have somatic complaints like stomach pain, back pain, and headaches.
- They were both more likely to suffer from depression.
- They both exhibited social difficulties. For instance, they both described difficulty talking to friends or peers and they both described feeling a lack of support in their social environment.
I find it fascinating that these two groups suffer similar pain. Why do I bring this up to families? Because families can help reduce bullying by giving their children the emotional resources both groups need to live healthier, “bully-free lives.” Here are a few of those resources.
- Develop a positive relationship with your children. Guide and discipline your children in love and grace (Do You Parent with a Club or a Staff?). Don’t bully them into obedience. Remember, relationships rule.
- Teach your children healthy social skills. Skills like politeness and respect for others carry great power. Model and practice politeness in your family.
- Teach your children healthy emotional management skills. Learning “emotional intelligence” is crucial for anyone’s success. So, teach your children to label their emotions and use the energy aroused by their emotion to address healthy priorities in a healthy, respectful manner. (Here are 6 Tips to Make Your Children’s Emotions Your Friend. )
- Provide opportunities for your children to learn kindness If You Really Want Happy Kids, kindness is essential. Nurture kindness in your children by practicing kindness IN your family and AS a family. Volunteer together.
- Create a home environment filled with gratitude, encouragement, and honor. Honor one another enough to verbalize gratitude and encouragement to each family member every day. Doing so will help each person develop a mindset of looking for things they are grateful for in others. As you show gratitude and encouragement, your children will follow suit.
Five things you can do to prevent bullying. It may not end bullying completely But, if enough families develop the habits described above, we might just change they world!
Your Child’s Toolbox for Self-Soothing
Children ride an emotional roller coaster. They get angry, happy, excited, bored, and so much more. You name it, they feel it. Unfortunately, they don’t know how to manage those feelings in a mature way…YET. One of our parental jobs is to teach them the skills necessary to manage emotions in a mature and effectively way.
The first step in teaching your children the skills to manage their emotions well is to make sure you manage your emotions well. (Find tips to manage your own emotion and get your teen to talk while you do in Encouraging Your Teen to Talk with You.)
The second thing you need to do is develop a strong relationship with your child, a relationship that encourages security and open communication. (Read An Amazing Parenting Insight Learned in 3 Parts and Relationships Rule for more.)
Third, develop an “Emotional Management Toolbox” with your child. Find a shoe box. Then sit down with your child to talk about ways to manage their emotions. As you talk about various methods, fill the box with items that will help them carry out the plan. Here are a few items that may prove useful in an Emotional Management Toolbox.
- A set of emotional face cards. You can download this picture of facial expressions here or here to represent your child’s emotions. Cut them into cards, one emotion per card. Your child can use these pictures and labels to help him name the emotion he is feeling. Being able to name an emotion allows a person the time to think about the best response to that emotion. Naming an emotion is a first step in managing an emotion.
- A straw to focus breathing. A straw can help a person learn how practice a calming breath. Put the straw in your child’s mouth and have them take a big breath in through their nose and then slowly breath out through the straw. This slow breathing exercise can help calm emotions.
- Favorite photos. Get photos that remind them of their favorite place, a favorite person, or who they want to become…photos that remind them of their values, their desires, and their relationships.
- Art supplies. Your child can use art supplies to express his or her emotions in positive and nonharmful ways. So, get some crayons, markers, paints, coloring books, and paper. You can also get clay, playdough, beads, string…any art supplies your child might enjoy. Mandala coloring books can prove especially helpful with some teens.
- Candles. Smells and aromas like lavender, sandalwood, jasmine, and vanilla are among the scents that have a calming effect on many people, including children. Scented candles and essential oils may prove a great tool in your child’s Emotional Management Toolkit.
- Fidget toys and stress balls provide another excellent tool in the Emotional Management Toolkit. (A variety of fidget toys and stress balls can be found here or on amazon.)
- A reminder to run or bike or do some physical activity. Sometimes a person needs to “blow off steam” to really manage their emotions. So figure out a way to put a reminder in the Emotional Management Toolkit. A picture or an action figure might do the trick…whatever serves as the best reminder for your child.
- Self-affirmation cards. You and your child can sit down one day and create several self-affirmation cards to keep in their Emotional Management Toolkit. Statements like, “This makes me angry and I can use that anger to talk about what’s important to me.” Or, “I’ve managed this before and I can manage it again.” “I am stronger than my emotions.” “My emotions are not in charge of me; I’m in charge of my emotions.” You and your child can write down the ones that will be most helpful in your family.
- A journal and pen. Studies have consistently shown that journaling can help us manage our emotions. Here are four journaling exercises to help you manage your emotions. And, for another journaling help read The Good and the Bad of Journaling.
There are more things you could put in your child’s Emotional Management Toolkit, but I’ll leave that to you and your child’s creativity. Put it together and teach them to use it. In time, your child will be a master at managing emotion.
Don’t Post Alone for a Happier Marriage
Social media is a wonderful way to share information with family and friends. You can also communicate love and adoration for your spouse through social media. But, studies have shown that sharing information online can also harm your marriage. Too much time spent on social media, becoming overly involved with a person other than your spouse, or sharing intimate information with others online can all have a negative impact on your marriage. What can you do to protect your marriage from the dangers of social media? One option is to open a joint account rather than an individual account. With a joint account, you both share information and have an open awareness of what each person posts.
Another option was recently discussed in a series of five studies completed by Carnegie Mellon University and University of Kansas. Briefly, the first study revealed that on-line self-disclosure lead to a romantic partner reporting less intimacy in their marriage. It confirmed the dangers to a marriage when one partner uses social media to share personal and emotional information.
The second study suggested that attachment style also impacts how a person responds to on-line self-disclosure. Specifically, people who naturally struggle to connect emotionally and experience difficulty building trust (those with an avoidant attachment style) reported less intimacy and lower marital satisfaction as their spouse disclosed a greater quantity of intimate information on line. The third study suggested that people report lower intimacy and lower marital satisfaction when they perceive their partner’s self-disclosure as more self-revealing, more personal or more emotional.
The fourth study found that people felt lower intimacy and lower marital satisfaction when their partner posted emotional or personal information to greater numbers of people versus just to them (and maybe one other person).
In summary, these four studies suggest that revealing emotional, personal information online leads to less intimacy and less marital satisfaction. Their partner may feel left out, unimportant, or insecure. The fifth study in this series, however, suggested that including your partner in posts can change all this and contribute to higher marital intimacy and satisfaction. In other words, if you are not going to have a joint account, be sure to include your partner in your posts. The takeaway of all this? Don’t post alone. Include your spouse in your posts. It will increase intimacy in your marriage and make you both feel a greater sense of satisfaction in your marriage.