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What Do You Really Want for Your Children?

I hate to say it, but parents have a huge responsibility. A tremendous burden rests on our shoulders. The future of our world depends on the priorities and values we instill in our children. I mean, it’s true but I didn’t think about that kind of responsibility when my wife and I decided to have children. But we quickly came to realize the need to take that responsibility seriously. We had to ask ourselves what values we really want to instill in our children. We needed to assess what we really want our children to learn. We had to nurture and teach our children to enable them to “see the big picture.”  Here are some of the questions we ask of ourselves. What are your answers?

  • Do we want our children to learn that the most important aspect of life is to win at any cost or do we want them to play the game while encouraging and supporting even the competition?
  • Do we want our children to learn to “get over on the system” or to live with integrity and honesty while working to change the system?
  • Do we want our children to pursue their own interests to the neglect of others or to pursue their interests while remaining aware, respectful, and encouraging of other peoples’ interests as well?
  • Do we want our children to fight for “my rights” or to have a more expansive view that also considers the rights of others and balancing the rights of all through service and sacrifice?
  • Do we want our children to get rich or to share with those who have genuine need?
  • Do we want our children to work to the neglect of relationship or to work to gain the resources they can use to build relationships?
  • Do we want our children to worry about the future at the expense of enjoying the moment or to prepare for the future while enjoying the moment? In fact, to even believe that how we enjoy the moment shapes our future!
  • Do we want our children to learn that “my” job or interests is most important and prestigious or to learn that everyone’s jobs and interests carry importance, prestige, and an amazing set of knowledge not everyone shares?
  • Do we want our children to learn that “my” opinion is best or to develop a genuine interest and respect in other people’s ideas and opinions, even if you disagree?

You cannot NOT teach your children these values. In your everyday words and actions, you teach your children these values.  They learn them from what you say and what you do, how you treat them and how you treat one another. Consider the values you want them to learn. Then start living them out in your daily life today!

Are You a Manipulative Parent?

I have often heard about the dangers of using manipulation when parenting. Manipulation in parenting contributes to an increased risk of rebellion, excessive guilt, and even depression in the child being manipulated. But what exactly is manipulative parenting? What practices make up manipulative parenting? We need to know the answers to these questions, so we don’t accidentally engage in manipulation. With that in mind, let me explain 5 ways in which parents might manipulate their children as they try to discipline.

  1. Withdrawing love or isolating their child. Children need their parents. They need to know their parent’s love for them is unshakable, present, and available. When we send our children to their room for an indefinite period of time or suddenly withdraw ourselves emotionally from their world, they become insecure. They question their own lovability. And they will do almost anything to regain the security of their parents’ love and attention.  When we withdraw our love or isolate our children, we have used their innate need for our loving presence and attention to manipulate them into behaviors we desire. So, rather than give your child an indefinite time out, give them a timeframe (a short timeframe). Then restore the relationship. Even better, give your child a “time-in” instead of a time-out. If you find yourself needing some emotional distance from a situation with your child, talk to them first. Explain to them that you simply need time alone and how they can provide that space without even leaving the room by quietly engaging in an activity on their own. Also, give them a time frame for your time alone. Once again, reunite with them immediately afterwards.
  2. Eliciting a “guilt trip.” We have all seen parents attempt to make their children engage in desired behavior or make a particular decision by sending them on a guilt trip. You know…phrases like, “I can’t believe you would do this to me after I…” or “I taught you better than that” or “You drive me crazy. Why don’t you just sit still and be quiet?”  Even a look of disappointment and shame can send our children on a guilt trip. Using guilt to elicit the behavior or decisions we desire in our children is manipulation…and detrimental to their emotional health. Rather than sending your child on a guilt trip, explain what behavior you desire and the reasons you desire it. Take time to teach.
  3. The “silent treatment.” “Silent treatment” is another way parents isolate their child. The still face experiment (seen in this video for both an infant and a married couple) reveals how the silent treatment negatively impacts our children. They become emotionally dysregulated and will do anything to reengage with their parent. Getting our children to do what we want by engaging in ” silent treatment” is manipulation. Learn, instead, to talk with your child. Teach them. Explain yourself. This may include becoming a bit vulnerable at times. But, when we talk, teach, and listen, our children will grow. You will grow. And their positive behavior will increase.
  4. Humiliating, shaming, or embarrassing. Of course, this is manipulative. We never want to humiliate, shame, or embarrass our children. Really, we want to model healthy ways of interaction in our own interaction with them. We want to treat our children with the same respect and love with which we want them to treat us and others in the world. They will learn through their experience with us.
  5. Social comparisons. Social comparisons manipulate by inducing guilt, embarrassing, and even humiliating our children. There is no need to compare our children with anyone else. In fact, we find our children’s best self in their uniqueness. Accept them for “who they are,” strengths and weaknesses alike. Acceptance carries great power to promote their growth and maturity. Children learn to value themselves and their capacity for growth when they find acceptance in and from us.

These five practices are signs of manipulative parents. Each one has a detrimental effect on our children. Each one backfires in the long run. Each one interferes with healthy relationships. But each once can be replaced with loving respect, kind instruction, healthy interactions, and acceptance. When we replace manipulation with respect, instruction, acceptance, and healthy relationships, we will enjoy a growing relationship with our constantly maturing children.

Help Your Children Get “Ready to Learn”

Learning can happen anytime and anywhere…not just in school. In fact, most learning probably occurs outside of school. Our children learn by watching us. They learn while playing. They learn everywhere. But if you really want to get your children “ready to learn” in more formal settings like school, a series of five studies out of Ohio State University offers a simple, yet powerful suggestion. In this series of studies, participants played a simple computer game in which one group saw “colorful images of unfamiliar creatures” later identified as “flurps” and “jalets.”  They received no information about these creatures in the first phase of the study. They simply saw them. A second group played the game and did not even see the creatures.

In the second phase of the study, both groups received explicit instruction about “flurps” and “jalets.” The researchers measured how long it took participants to learn the difference between them. The first group, who had previous exposure to the creatures, learned the differences between “flurps” and “jalets” more quickly than those who had no exposure to them. Simple exposure prepared them to learn.

In another study, participants would see the creatures in the middle of the screen and have to push a one button if the creature jumped to the left or a different button if it jumped to the right. No one told them that one category of creature always jumped left, and another category always jumped right. Surprisingly, participants did not recognize this difference while playing the game. Mere exposure did not teach them which creature jumped in which direction. But, that exposure did allow them to learn the differences between the creatures more quickly than a group who had received no exposure to the creatures. In other words, the exposure did not teach them about the creatures, it simply prepared them to learn about the creatures.

What does this mean? It means that merely exposing your children to new places and things prepares them to learn about those places and things. They may not learn from simply experiencing the new object or place, but the experience prepares them to learn about it more quickly when they receive actual teaching. In other words, you can prepare your child to learn by simply exposing them to new things. Here are some ideas to prepare your children to learn.

  • Go on vacation. When you go on vacation, your children encounter new places, new people, new foods, new ecosystems, new animals, new history, and more. Simply experiencing these things prepares them to learn about them in their school studies, readings, or family talks.
  • Listen to a variety of music. Don’t get stuck in one style of music. Let your children experience a variety of music. Also, buy some toy instruments and let them play with them. Let them bang on the Tupperware, shake the toy tambourine, hum in the kazoo. As a result, they will be better prepared to learn about rhythm, melody, harmony, and instruments.
  • Play with sports equipment. Toss a ball around. Play catch. Swing a bat or a tennis racquet around. Run. Have fun. It will prepare your child to learn about sports when they get more serious.
  • Play board games and card games. Games can expose children to the concept of “chance” and numbers as well as strategy and more. Counting dice, counting moves, deciding if it’s worth the risk to ask for another card…all these prepare a child to learn math and science skills.
  • Cook with your child. Measuring ingredients for pies or cookies prepares your child to learn about math.

These are just a few ideas. There are many more. Take the time today to engage your child in something new and get them “ready to learn.” What activities can you think of that will expose your child to a skill that they will later learn as part of life?

Strengthen Your Family in 3 Words or Less

Want to build a stronger family? Of course you do. We all do. We want a stronger, more intimate family. A healthy family. A connected family. Sometimes it sounds like hard work to “build” a strong, healthy family. But you can do it in three words or less…as long as you use those words often. Let me share some examples.

  • You see your spouse washing dishes. Now is your chance. Build a stronger relationship with these 3 little words: “Can I help?” Then follow through when she says “yes.”
  • Your parent is washing the car or raking leaves. “Can I help?” are the perfect 3 words to strengthen your connection with your parent.
  • Your child is frustrated with their homework. Now is not the time to lecture about waiting until the last minute. Instead, strengthen your bond with these 3 simple words: “Can I help?”
  • Your spouse asks for help cooking dinner or putting the summer porch furniture away. They ask for your help. I know. You’re busy. You have your chores too. But they’ve asked for your help; and you want to build intimacy, strengthen your connection. So, three simple words will help: “I’d love to.”

You can strengthen your relationship in less than three words too. Take these examples.

  • You ask someone in your family to pass the salt at dinnertime and they do. Reply with a simple “Thank you.” Two words, that’s all. But those two simple words strengthen the bond in your relationship.
  • You just finished putting away the clean dishes. You do it almost every day so it’s no big deal. But your spouse thanks you. You could minimize their gratitude; but then you would miss the opportunity to build the relationship. Instead, you say “My pleasure” –two words that deepen your spouse’s appreciation even further.
  • You said something mean in the midst of an argument. It just slipped out. You know it was wrong and you don’t really mean it. Nonetheless, it hurt the other person and erected a barrier between you and them. “I’m sorry” begins to repair the breach. “I’m sorry” accepts responsibility and opens the door to restore the intimacy lost.

These are only 2-3 word phrases. But, when shared generously, graciously, and authentically in our family, they will strengthen your family, increase the intimacy in your relationships, and bring greater health to your family relationships. What other simple 2-3 word phrases can you think of that will strengthen your family?

How Does Your Family Feel About Emotions?

I’m a behavioral health therapist. You know, a “how-do-you-feel-about-that” kind of guy. But truth be told, I’m not one who exhibits deep displays of emotion. I feel them, but I don’t express them loudly.

I’m also the father of two daughters. If you happen to have daughters, you know how emotive they can be during their growing years. At times I was simply overwhelmed by their display of excitement, hurt, joy, or sadness. So, I had a couple of choices. How would I respond to their emotions? How would I model treating emotions in my family?

I could teach my daughters that emotions are too much to manage. They aren’t safe to express. I could encourage them through my actions and words to push their emotions down, muffle them, deny them, keep them bottled up. “Stop crying. You have nothing to cry about.” In other words, I could encourage them to repress their emotions. But simply repressing emotions has a way of transforming into hiding emotions under overworking, drinking too much, obsessive scrolling, simply disappearing from the lives of others, or…any number of other negative behaviors. That’s no good.

Or I could teach them that emotional expression is simply “bad.”  In my own sense of being overwhelmed, I could yell at them for being “too loud,” “too much trouble,” or “out-of-control.” I could aggressively shut them down with critical name-calling or threats of harsh punishment. But then they’ll just internalize those harsh criticisms about themselves and others. They’ll follow the example of holding emotions in until they bubble over in aggressive words and actions of their own. No. that is not what I want my daughters to learn.

Or, perhaps the best choice, I could teach my children that emotions are welcome. They present us with information we need to take care of ourselves, even the sad and angry emotions. So, I could make sure that emotions are welcome in our home. I could accept them, all of them. I could listen to them deeply to understand their message…and so teach my children to listen deeply as well. I could hold their emotions in a welcoming, accepting environment. In the process, my daughters will learn that they are loved and accepted, even when sad or angry or overwhelmingly excited. That acceptance and love, combined with their parents’ attentive ear, builds the internal resources they need to manage those emotions independently. That sounds like a great place to start.

The choice is made…a “no-brainer” really. I’m going to allow emotions, welcoming and accepting each one. And, in the holding of their emotions in a welcoming, accepting environment, my children will learn to express their emotions in a safe way. No. I won’t be perfect. Nobody is. But making this choice provides the best goal, an ideal that’s worth striving for. Will you make the same choice for your children and your family?

What Did I Just Do?

My daughters were upstairs…arguing…loudly. I hate arguing. And I hate loud. Still, I waited in hopes they would resolve their disagreement without my intervention.  But they continued to argue and yell. The longer they yelled, the more my irritation grew. After what seemed like an eternity (probably only 1-2 minutes in reality), I stomped to the bottom of the stairs and yelled, “Stop the yelling. We don’t yell in this house!” As soon as I heard the words leave my mouth, I shook my head. Did I just yell at my children to stop yelling? That’s just wrong on so many levels.

  • Yelling didn’t model the behavior I wanted them to see. What else can I say about this? Yelling is bad modeling…unless you want children that yell to get their point across.
  • Yelling prevents learning. Our children, like people in general, enter into the “fight or flight” mode when someone yell at them, even if that someone is a parent. In the “fight or flight” mode, a person focuses on self-protection and, as a result, really can’t learn. Their learning is frozen in fear and all their internal resources are mobilized for self-protection. There is no learning or rational thought, only the buzz and frazzle of confused self-protection.
  • Yelling sabotages our parent-child relationship. It severs the connection between you and your child and replaces it with fearful self-protection. It scrambles your child’s brain, interfering with their ability to relate. Remember, the parent-child relationship forms the foundation of effective parenting. After all, rules without relationship leads to rebellion.
  • Yelling plugs up our children’s ears. It teaches them that they don’t really have to listen until we yell. A simple, quiet request goes unheeded when yelling is our general practice. They have learned to not listen until they hear you yell. 
  • Yelling models disrespect and we want our children to learn respect. Children, like all people, deserve our respect, even during discipline.

It’s true. I yelled at my children to stop yelling. Not one of my finer parenting moments. Fortunately, I caught my discrepancy and my children, like all children, are extremely gracious. They allowed room for “do-over.” I walked up the stairs and went into the room where they argued. We took a moment to talk about their argument, my yelling, and the fact that we really “don’t want to yell in this house.” Another moment to resolve their disagreement, at least to my satisfaction, and life returned to normal. Next time I opened my mouth to yell up the stairs at my children, I remembered that day and smiled. Then I walked up the stairs. Even before I got to the top of the stairs, my children started arguing more quietly and with greater civility. I smiled. Maybe we were all learning after all.

“Forgivingly Fitness” & Your Children’s Grades

You might be asking, “What is ‘Forgivingly Fitness’?” Good question. Robert Enright, a forgiveness researcher refers to the benefits of building our “forgivingly fitness,” our openness and ability to forgive those who hurt us. Of course, we want our children to learn how to forgive. After all, forgiveness builds resilience and helps us not fall prey to resentment. Forgiveness restores a more positive outlook on our life. But did you know it can also improve academic performance? According to one study (discussed by Robert Enright in this Like a Sponge podcast) participating in a 12-week forgiveness class was associated with a full letter improvement in their grades. A control group of students who did not participate in the forgiveness class did not experience any academic improvement (see this study also).

Why would learning about forgiveness improve academic performance? I like Dr. Enright’s answer to that question: “If you are a 13-year-old in middle school and you have a throbbing knee that day, you’re going to miss the lesson because your knee is getting in the way of concentration. What if you have a broken heart…? You’re going to miss the lesson too. But, what if we can bind up the heart? Now, you have more time, focus, and energy to focus on your lessons.” In other words, unforgiveness leads to resentment. Holding a grudge takes up space in our minds. Resentment and holding a grudge interfere with our ability to concentrate and learn. Teaching our children to forgive, on the other hand, allows them to let go of the resentment and not hold the grudge. It frees them up to expend energy on more important aspects of life…like learning.

How can you teach your child to forgive? First, model forgiveness in your own life. Many “small opportunities” arise for the practice forgiveness. Take advantage of those opportunities. Practice forgiveness and talk about your work to forgive with your children and family. Something as simple as, “Someone ran through a stop sign and cut me off on the way home today. It really made me angry. It’s dangerous and not fair that they cut me off (Acknowledging the Wrong Done). I don’t know why they did it. Maybe they were daydreaming, had an emergency, or they are new to the area and kind of lost. We all have those times. (Acknowledging Our Mutual Humanity with the One Who Offended Us.) So I just took a breath and let it go. No need to hold on to that. (Altruistic Choice to Forgive.) Hopefully he’s safe. (Wishing Compassion for the Offender.)” (Steps of the forgiveness process noted in italics.)

Second you can talk about forgiveness while watching movies or tv shows in which one person offends another.  Let the discussion loosely follow the steps alluded to above. If you’re not sure about questions to ask or how to discuss forgiveness for a character, consider some of the questions in “Enright’s Forgiveness Process Model.” The conversation doesn’t have to go from beginning to end. It doesn’t need to lead to a complete understanding of forgiveness. It’s simply an opportunity to discuss some of the questions about forgiveness, what it involves, and the benefits it might have for that character.

Becoming “forgivingly fit” will help you and your child navigate life in a healthier way. You will experience more joy and contentment. Most important, your child may even experience greater academic success.

The Best Response to Your Child’s Ingratitude

I’ve heard many parents express frustration over their child’s lack of gratitude. Maybe you have done it yourself. It seems even grateful children go through times in which they become ungrateful, demanding, and even presumption. They stop expressing thanks and expect to receive anything they want from their parents. Or, they expect their parent to do anything they want for them…as if we, their parents, were put on this earth to serve their every whim. They express frustration or anger because they don’t get something they want, even though we just spent an afternoon doing nice things for them. Or maybe they bemoan that the other kids “have it better” because their “parents understand.” You’ve probably encountered a time like this. Most of us have experienced our children doing at least one of these things. I know I have. When it happens, we ask ourselves: “What’s the best way to respond so my children will become more grateful as they mature?”

That’s the question Andrea Hussong (from the University of North Carolina) and colleagues sought to answer in 3 -year study involving over 100 parents and children. They considered 6 parental responses to ingratitude: self-blame, letting it go as a “phase” the child will outgrow, becoming frustrated or distressed, punishing, giving in, or teaching/instructing.

They discovered several details about gratitude between parent and child, but I want to focus on what responses parents and children in the study thought fostered gratitude. Parents believed their children showed more gratitude after 3 years when they responded to ingratitude with negative consequences, for instance, putting a toy left out where someone might trip over it into time out or taking away an opportunity for dessert because the child expressed ingratitude for supper.

Children, on the other hand, reported increased gratitude when their parents “got upset or frustrated by their ingratitude.” In other words, when parents express their authentic emotions about their children’s ingratitude, their children listen… and learn.

So, if you get frustrated by your child’s ingratitude and the expectations that accompany that ingratitude, let them know.  Stay calm, take a breath, look them in the eye, and tell them: “I get upset when you don’t appreciate the food I give you and my effort in preparing it.” “It’s very frustrating that I spent all evening playing a game you wanted to play and now you demand to stay up late.” “I really get angry when you leave your toys where someone could trip over them when you know how to put them away when you’re done playing.”

Then, if the ingratitude continues, a negative consequence may also help. “No dessert” due to ingratitude over dinner. An “earlier bedtime” in response to demanding behavior in the evening. A toy “put in time out” for the day because a child did not put it away when asked to. The important thing is to make sure the consequence is associated with the area of ingratitude.

And just as important, when your child expresses gratitude, show a little gratitude in return. Your gratitude will reinforce the behavior you desire, the behavior of showing gratitude. Children learn from their parent’s example. Your gratitude will set a good example. It will “rub off on them.” In fact, your children will rarely become more grateful than you. The more gratitude you show, the more gratitude they will show.

Want a Marriage with Great Sex?

Want a marriage with great sex? Dumb question…every married person does, right? And, truth be told, several factors contribute to a satisfying sexual relationship in marriage. But a study published in January, 2021, reveals two of the important factors for a satisfying sexual relationship in marriage. This study utilized data collected from 7,114 heterosexual couples across the United States. Both husbands and wives completed various surveys to determine how forgiving they were toward their spouse, the quality of their conflict resolution, and their level of sexual satisfaction. Not surprisingly, the higher the quality of conflict resolution, the greater the level of reported sexual satisfaction for both the husbands and wives. It seems that “make up sex” really is good when conflict is resolved well.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, was only related to greater sexual satisfaction for husbands, not wives. In other words, husbands with a greater willingness to forgive (a “higher level of forgiveness”) reported greater sexual satisfaction. To those of you who are husbands, pride interferes with forgiveness. Take the humble road and forgive your wife when the time arises…and it will. After all, humility is hot in a marriage.

Here’s the takeaway. If you want to have greater sexual satisfaction in your marriage, learn to resolve your marital conflicts well; and husbands, learn to forgive. If you struggle with resolving conflicting in your marriage, here are some helps to get you started:

And if you’re not sure about the whole forgiveness thing, start here:

Parents, Don’t Sabotage Your Children’s Ears

Parents want their children to listen. We want them to listen so we can teach them and keep them safe. But sometimes we sabotage our efforts at getting children to listen.

We sabotage our efforts at getting children to listen by lecturing. Children stop listening when parents go on and on. Instead of listening and learning, they shut their parents out and focus on how their parent could do things differently (AKA— “is crazy). Instead of lecturing, keep it clear and concise, to the point. In fact, you can often boil down what you want to say to one, two, or three words. For example: “Nice words, please.” “Brush your teeth.” “Please help me.”

We sabotage our efforts at getting children to listen by giving commands without any education. Children like to “exercise their free will.” (Don’t we all. But when adults do this, we call it “standing up for ourselves.” When children do it, we call it rebellion.) Many times, a little education goes a long way in getting children to listen and learn. So tell your children the reason behind the directive. For instance, “Milk spoils when it’s left out, so we better put it away.” “Glasses break easily.” “Unflushed toilets start to smell.” Statements like these offer the reasons behind our directives and communicate a trust that our children will do the right thing when they have all the information.

We also sabotage our efforts at getting children to listen by neglecting to be polite. We constantly tell our children to say “thank you” and “please” but neglect to give them the same courtesy. Remember, our children learn from our actions. They are more likely to listen when we remain polite. Our children also deserve our respect. When we treat our children with respect, they know they are valued. They are more likely to listen to a parent who has expressed respect and value toward them. So don’t forget the “thank-you’s” and “pleases” when speaking with your children.  “Can you help clear the table please?” “Thank you for watching your sister.”

We sabotage our efforts to get our children to listen by cajoling and persuading rather than giving choices. Cajoling and persuading gives your power to your children. Your children become the ones in control when a parent resorts to cajoling, demanding, and persuading. Many times, parents will then threaten punishment in an effort to re-exert control. Unfortunately, threatening punishment results in a power struggle. Your child digs in their heels and accepts “the challenge.” They “call their parent’s bluff” to see who is really in control. You might avoid this whole power struggle by offering a simple choice. Rather than cajole, persuade, and threaten, calmly offer a choice. This choice may involve a consequence, or it may not. If it does involve a consequence, use a natural consequence—a consequence directly related to the behavior. “Please put on your coat to go out or we can stay in.” “Put your toys away please or they will go into time out for a day.” If the choice involves a natural consequence, state it calmly AND make sure you are willing to allow the natural consequence to occur. If you save your child from the consequences of their actions, you rob them of the opportunity to learn.

These four suggestions may not work every time (nothing does). But they will work much of the time. And you will no longer find yourself sabotaging your efforts at getting your children to listen.

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