Archive for February 19, 2024

The Key to Emotional Health in Adolescence

Adolescence is a time of challenge and opportunity, a time of growth for parent and child. At times you and your child may feel like pulling your hair out during their adolescent years. And, at other times, you may feel like pulling one another’s hair out. But there is a key that can help nurture health for parent and child during the adolescent years. It’s a key that the parent holds but both parent and teen benefit from it. Psychologists call this key “authoritative parenting.” Several studies have shown authoritative parenting beneficial for raising children. Among other things, studies suggest it promotes a positive self-concept and better self-control in children as well as better relationships between parents and their children. Why? Because it sets health, age-appropriate limits AND it offers warm relationships.

What makes a warm relationship between parent and child? In a warm relationship, parents show delight in their children. They are responsive to their children. Not only do they respond to their children on a consistent basis, but their responses match the children’s needs of the moment. Parents listen, observing their children’s behavior as well as hearing the message behind their words, and respond in a way that communicates understanding and affection. Warm parent-child relationships also involve sharing time together enjoying positive interactions.

In addition to warm relationships, authoritative parenting also involves healthy, age-appropriate limits. Children are not allowed to do whatever they want when they want. Instead, parents establish and enforce limits for their children’s safety and health. These limits help assure predictability and security for their children. Ironically, children more easily explore their world and their interests from the safety of well-established and lovingly enforced limits. Exploration helps them learn and grow. So, in effect, lovingly enforced, age-appropriate limits nurture our children’s ability to learn and grow.

Together, warm parenting combined with healthy, age-appropriate limits make up authoritative parenting, the type of parenting that promotes a healthy adolescence for both parent and adolescent. Know what I like about this? You can learn to practice authoritative parenting. You can practice warmth in your relationship and learn to lovingly enforce healthy limits. Here’s a few basics.

  • Listen intently to your children’s verbal and nonverbal communications. Even their behaviors are communicating something for you to “hear.”
  • Remain responsive to your children’s communications and needs.
  • Establish healthy, age-appropriate limits and lovingly enforce those limits.
  • Show consistency in your responsiveness to your children and in the enforcement of limits.
  • As our children mature, allow the limits to change. Let them become increasingly “in charge” of their own decisions and consequences.
  • Enjoy your maturing adolescent and your relationship with them.

The Power of Speaking with Vulnerable Honesty

Every married couple will experience disagreements and conflict. However, how we say what we say can calm a conflict or escalate it, arouse defensiveness or cooperation. It can push away or draw near, disempower or empower. Consider these statements and possible alternatives.

“I hate staying in every night. We never do anything together.” That feels like an attack. It will more easily push the other person to defensiveness or shutting down. On the other hand, imagine how different a response you might receive if you start from a place of vulnerable honesty, making a less harsh statement while communicating your deeper desire for connection.

  • “I miss spending time with you. Would you like to go to dinner and a movie tonight?”

“Do some work around the house, would you? I’m not your servant.” Once again, the harshness will likely arouse defensiveness from the other person. And the attacking statements do not address the deeper desire and need. Once again, a statement from a place of vulnerable honesty might get a better response.

  • “I’m feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs done. I really need your help. Could you clean the…?”

I think you get the idea but let me share one more just to make sure. “What’s your problem. You haven’t touch me in months.” Unfortunately, a statement like this pushes the other person further away. Try starting from a place of vulnerable honesty and clearly state your desire and need.

  • “I miss hugging and snuggling with you. Let’s snuggle up on the couch and watch a movie or read books while snuggling tonight.”

Notice the differences? The first statements were harsh, accusatory, and attacking. The alternatives speak from a place of vulnerable honesty by clearly expressing a true need or desire. Then, they offered a simple solution, empowering both people to take action to meet the need. As a result, the alternative statements will more likely motivate a positive response and lead to a better end. But it all beings with speaking from a place of vulnerable honesty.

Encourage Your Child’s Anger

If you want your children to achieve challenging goals in their lives, you may have to encourage their anger. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean letting them blow up or “rage” around the house. I mean accepting their anger and then teaching them how to manage that anger as a motivating factor in their lives. After all, anger, like all emotions, plays an important role in our lives and the lives of our children.

  • First, anger reveals our priorities and values. It also alerts us to important situations that require action. We really only get angry over things we value. Situations and things that don’t matter to us don’t arouse our emotions either. We only get angry or happy or sad about those things we value, things important to us. So, when your children express anger, consider what priority and value that anger is communicating. Help them identify the priority or value their anger reveals. Is it a value of respect? Safety? Fairness? Does it reveal the hurt of not being included? Help your child discover and understand the value underlying their anger.
  • Second, anger energizes us to respond and align the situation with our values and priorities. This energy can help motivate our children to pursue a goal or align a situation with their values. In fact, at least one study found anger improved a person’s ability to reach a goal while a “neutral “emotion did not. Anger increased effort. But, we have to channel the energy and motivation of anger toward our priority in a healthy way. Unfortunately, children often use the energy of anger without considering the value or priority they want to communicate. They strike out in anger because they feel disrespected. Or they strike out in anger when they feel excluded. In doing so, they miscommunicate. Rather than communicating a priority of respect, they arouse further disrespect or fear. Rather than communicating a desire for inclusion, they push the other people away.
  • So, after you help your child identify the value underlying their anger, you can brainstorm actions they can take to effectively communicate their values or achieve the goals related to their values.

Practicing these three steps with your children will teach them to accept their anger, understand the value behind the anger, and utilize its energy to achieve their goals. In this way, anger becomes an ally, a motivator, even a teacher rather than a hindrance.

They Know More Than You Think

Our children are geniuses. They know so much more than we think. In some sense, this is good. It helps them learn and grow. In other ways, not so good because they know much more about what is going on at home than we might imagine. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies revealed how much children between 3-years-old and 6-years-old know about their family’s relationships and conflicts. They were able to describe negative and positive aspects of their family’s relationships. They could give detailed descriptions about family dynamics—good and bad dynamics. They could explain the emotions of various family members by giving detailed descriptions of facial expressions, tone of voice, and behavior. In other words, children are watching AND learning.

Based on this finding, we have to ask ourselves: Are our interactions and conflict management styles teaching our children how to interact and manage emotions in a positive way? Are we giving seeing and learning healthy skills as they watch and learn from our behavior, facial expressions, tone of voice, and interactions? What will they learn about relationships from us? What will they carry into their families based on the lessons they learn by watching us? Be aware and make sure your children learn more positive lessons by watching you.

The authors of this study also found that conflict between a parent and their child often remained unresolved. As a result, the child turned to a sibling or a pet for comfort during tension with a parent. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my child to feel like a family pet offers more comfort than I do. So, resolve the conflict to keep the relationship open for comforting and support. You can resolve the conflict in a variety of ways, depending on the situation. For instance,

  • You can sit down and talk after everyone has calmed down. Talks about what happened and why it created a problem. Then discuss how to manage similar situations in the future in a more productive and healthy manner.
  • Apologize if and when you need to. Apologizing to our children when appropriate teaches them important lessons about responsibility, justice, and humility.
  • Reaffirm your love for your child. Make sure they know you love them even when you disagree with them, get upset with them, or even discipline them. Affirm your love verbally and nonverbally every day as often as you can.

Children are keenly aware of the family dynamics in our homes. They watch us to learn about marriage, relationships, conflict resolution, compromise, and many other life skills that they will take with them into their own marriages and families. Make sure the lessons they learn from you are the lessons you want them to know for life.

To Keep Your Marriage Stronger, Longer

Do you want to have a life-long, happy marriage? I do….and I have good news. According to research, this one daily behavior will contribute to a long, happy marriage. The findings came from analyzing data from 732 couples between the ages of 64- and 74-years-old. What is the behavior that contributes to a joyous marriage well into late adulthood? Well, the research involved having couples increase the frequency of intimacy in their marriage. Those that increased the frequency of their intimacy reported increased marital quality.  Not that surprising, right?  Couples that enjoy intimacy report greater positivity about their marriage. Physical contact protects the quality of a marriage.

Another study noted that a particular type of intimacy promotes well-being in marriages: kissing. Just like the old song: “K-I-S-S-I-N-G.” Kissing decreases a person’s level of cortisol (a stress hormone) while increasing oxytocin (a hormone that encourages bonding). Kissing also relaxes people and builds a deeper connection between those kissing. Decreased stress. Increased bonding. Greater connection. Each can add to a person’s sense of well-being. And, of course, previous blogs talk about the importance of hugging.

Spending quality time intimately conversing with your spouse will also increase the well-being of your marriage. Sit down and have a conversation with your spouse. Discuss your hopes and dreams as well as all the things you admire and adore about your spouse. “Look into their eyes” and tell them the depth of your love.

Let me ask again. Do you want a life-long, happy marriage? Then enjoy intimacy with your spouse. Kiss. Hug. Hold hands. Enjoy meaningful conversation with one another. Go with the flow and “see where it goes.” Not just once, but practice, practice, practice. Not only will you promote better marital quality, but you’ll have fun as well.

Middle School & Mental Health…Like Riding a Bike

If you have a child in middle school or approaching middle school, you’ll want to know this information to help protect their mental health. You already know that middle school is a time of change and transition. Middle school age youth encounter transitions in their physical bodies, their social lives, and their sense of growing independence. With all this transition, it’s no surprise that the middle school years represent potential mental health challenges.

A study involving more than 1,200 students between 11-years-old and 14-years-old found that riding a bike at least three times a week for a minimum of 6 weeks experienced an increase sense of well-being. Each student learned about cycling safety and outdoor bike maneuvering skills. They had fun riding their bike—raising their heart rate and having fun. The benefits of this activity seemed to arise from two things.

  • One, the positive experience and physical activities of riding a bike.
  • Two, the social experience of riding with other people.

I told you that you’d want to know this information if you had a child in middle school or nearing middle school. You can help increase your child’s sense of well-being by helping them learn to ride a bike and start the habit of riding a bike. Maybe they’d enjoy a spin class or simply going out to enjoy a bike ride several times a week. Whatever way your child might enjoy, bike riding may increase your child’s sense of well-being.