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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!

“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.

Do Not Steal Your Child’s Passion

Unbelievable. Well, sort of….  I guess it really does make sense when you think about it. Let me explain and you decide what you think.

The researchers chose only preschool age children who showed an interest in drawing to participate in this study. Then, they divided the preschool children into three groups. One group was told they would get a reward, a certificate with a gold seal and a ribbon, after participating in a drawing activity.

The second group received the same reward, but it came as a surprise. They were never told about the reward and knew nothing about it until they received it after the activity was completed. During the activity, they simply enjoyed the drawing activity with no expectation of reward.

The third group participated in the drawing activity but did not receive a reward and no reward was ever talked about. They simply enjoyed the drawing activity with no expectation of reward and no reward to enjoy after the activity.

The most important part of the observation occurred after the drawing activity (which was only six minutes long by the way). After the activity, the research team observed the children through one-way mirrors for several days. They wanted to see how much the children drew on their own. What did the researchers find?

The children who were told they would receive a reward for the drawing activity drew less (50% less!) after the activity than they had drawn prior to the activity. The other two groups drew the same amount before and after the activity. The expectation of reward changed the child’s behavior…but not in a way one might think. In fact, the expectation of an external reward robbed the children of their internal motivation and resulted in less drawing. After experiencing the expectation of reward for drawing, the children seemed more interested in drawing for the expected reward, not just the intrinsic joy and interest they once had for drawing. They associated drawing with an expectation of reward rather than satisfaction and joy. They lost the intrinsic reward associated with drawing. Unbelievable…but other studies support these results.  For instance, based on the results of 128 studies, researchers concluded that “intangible rewards tend to have a substantially negative effect on intrinsic motivation.”

Does this mean we should never reward our children? Not exactly. Rewards have their place. Rewards are helpful when a child has to do something they have never enjoyed. Rewards may also prove beneficial when they come as an unexpected surprise. So, go ahead and use rewards, but…and these are significant but’s…

  • Do not tie an expectation of reward to something your child already enjoys. Pay attention to what your child enjoys and simply let them enjoy it. Remember, most children enjoy helping (Children Help Without Nagging? How Can It Be?).  Let them help for the intrinsic joy it provides.
  • Do not create an expectation of reward for learning or school. You may undermine any intrinsic motivation your child has to do well, learn, and achieve in school. Instead, enjoy some spontaneous, unexpected celebrations for completing a project or, better yet, for the effort your child invested in their schoolwork.
  • Helping others for no reward is often intrinsically rewarding. Look for opportunities in which your child (and/or you) can engage in helping others. For instance, if your child enjoys math or English, they could tutor another child. (Learn more in Give It Away for Family Fun.)

Nurture your child’s intrinsic motivation. Don’t steal their passions and interests by indiscriminately building an expectation of reward for activities they already enjoy. Wisely choose what areas an external reward may prove helpful. But  simply encourage activities in which your children already enjoy and have intrinsic motivation.

Don’t Cut Your Children From the Team

Do you know what team your child wants to be part of the most? Team family. Yes, they desire to be part of the family team. If they feel disconnected from the family team, they may misbehave to gain your attention. They will act up so the team will notice and include them, even if it means inclusion through yelling and discipline. So, one of the best things you can do for your children is to make them part of Team Family. What does that mean? I’m glad you asked.

First, making sure children are part of Team Family means making a careful assessment of how we manage our family time. Our culture tends to shape the family around child-centered activities. But, when our lives become focused on getting our children from one activity to another, we have cut them from the varsity team and relegated them to junior varsity. We have sent them to the minors. We have taught them that they are not part of the Team Family but are an entitled individual with an entourage to manage their world and meet their needs.

Instead of getting overwhelmed as a family in child-focused activities, welcome your children into the “adult world.” Involve your children in family activities that are naturally a part of your adult life. Let them observe your daily life and participate when they desire to do so. Let them accompany you as you run errands. Let them observe you as you work around the house or in the yard. Encourage them to work alongside you when opportunities arise. Doing this teaches your children that their needs, although important, are not the only needs to consider. Their needs will be met, but they, like every other family member, may have the opportunity to sacrifice a desire to benefit the family. After all, that’s what all members of Team Family do.

It also teaches your children that they belong. It teaches them that they make a significant contribution to Team Family and are valued by Team Family. They are part of the family, a team that looks out for everyone, not just one person. They belong to a family in which everyone enjoys time and activity together.

Don’t get me wrong. You can still involve your children in organized sports and child-centered activities. But be careful not to let your family life be enslaved to those activities. When families become enslaved by child-centered activities, they have cut their children from the team and sent them to the minors, teaching them they don’t really belong on Team Family. Involve your children in the family. Let them know they belong, that they are an integral, significant member of Team Family.

Be the Inspiration Your Family Needs

We all want to inspire our families to live a better life, don’t we? I know I do. I want my life to inspire my spouse and my children to live a more fulfilled life, a life filled with joy and the pursuit of dreams. Now, a review of 88 studies involving 25,000 participants reveals one great way we can inspire our family to act in kindness and generosity. Surprisingly, it’s really pretty simple too. What is it? Let your family see you engaging in acts of kindness and generosity. Let them witness you comforting someone, leaving an extra tip, acting cooperatively, getting another family member a drink, or some other act of kindness. It’s as simple as that. Let them see you being kind.

This review of studies revealed kindness is contagious. So, when your family witnesses your act of kindness, they will be inspired to act in kindness as well. Here are a couple of caveats to keep in mind though:

  • If you want your family to witness your kindness, you have to engage in acts of kindness and generosity. I know that seems obvious, but I still wanted to say it. To inspire kindness in your family, you need act in kindness around them.
  • Ironically, your act of kindness will inspire your family to act kindly whether your family witnesses the kind action in person or they hear you talk about it. So, create times in which your family can share stories about acts of kindness that they engaged in or saw others engage in. If you’re not sure when to have this kind of conversation, consider doing it over a family dinner. This would make a wonderful family discussion over any family dinner.
  • Another rather obvious caveat but…. You have to spend time with your family in order for them to witness your acts of Kindness or to hear the stories of your kindness. Spend time with family every day.
  • Finally, don’t expect your family to show kindness in the same way you do. The review of 88 studies cited above reveals that people do not simply mimic the kindness they witness. Instead, they “take on the prosocial goal and generalize it” to engage in acts of kindness that may differ from what they witnessed. So don’t expect your family to imitate your kindness. Instead, celebrate their unique expressions of kindness.

You can inspire your family to kindness simply by engaging in acts of kindness yourself. In the process, kindness just might become one of the defining characteristics of your family. I can live with that, can’t you? And that identity of being a “kind family” might just spill out into your community, inspiring your community to become a community of kindness… and wouldn’t that be wonderful?

From Where Do Our Tweens Learn Values?

What values do you want your children to learn? Who do you want to teach them those values? Of course, we all want to teach our children the values we believe in and support. But there is another teacher in your home. This teacher reflects the values of our society and teaches those values to your children, tweens, and teens whether you agree with them or not. Who is this teacher? TV’s, videos, and screens.

Tweens’ average daily screen media use ranges from 4-6 hours per day with 53% of that time being with TVs and videos. As you can imagine from these numbers, TV shows and videos can have a huge impact on the values our children learn. A recent report by UCLA’s Center for Scholars and Storytellers assessed the values tweens (8-12 years old) saw portrayed in popular television shows from 1967 through 2017.  This study examined the top watched “tween television shows” and “surveyed which values were being communicated in the storytelling.”  The 16 values they tracked included achievement, benevolence, community, conformity, fame, financial success, hedonism, image, physical fitness, popularity, power, security, self-acceptance, self-centeredness, spiritualism, and tradition.  You can learn more about the findings in The Rise and Fall of Fame: Tracking the Landscape of Values Portrayed on Tween Television from 1967 to 2017. But I want to share how just a few observations about how values have changed over that 50-year period.

In 1967, Community Feeling was the #1 value portrayed in shows for tweens. By 2007, Community had fallen to #11. Fortunately, it rose to #5 by 2017. Valuing a sense of community has had quite a roller coaster ride in television.

In 1967, Benevolence was ranked #2 in values portrayed on television shows popular among tweens. By 2007 it had dropped to #12. It did rise to #8 by 2017. Still, it fell below achievement, self-acceptance, image, popularity, community feeling, fame, and self-centeredness.

On the other hand, fame was ranked #15 in 1967. It rose to #1 in 2007 and remained #6 by 2017.  Achievement was ranked #10 in 1967 and rose to #2 in 2007 and #1 in 2017. What five values were between the #1 achievement and the # 6 fame in 2017? #2 was self-acceptance. #3 was image. #4 was popularity. #5 was a sense of community.

Notice the difference. The top 3 values in portrayed 1967 were a sense of community, benevolence, and image. The top 3 values portrayed in 2017 included achievement, self-acceptance, and image. Benevolence ranked #8 in 2017. Achievement, popularity, fame, and self-centeredness all rank above benevolence. Are these really the values we want our children to learn? I think most of us would say not. Instead, we’d say, “Houston…we have a problem.”

This review of “televised values” also looked at reality shows vs. fictional shows. Not surprisingly, reality shows conveyed self-oriented values like fame, image, and self-centeredness. Fictional shows conveyed more community-oriented values like benevolence, a sense of community, and self-acceptance.

We must ask ourselves: what values do we want our children to observe and learn for 4-6 hours a day? Right now, they are learning the values conveyed through television and social media. As a parent, what can you do?

  1. Teach your children to be wise consumers of television. Teach them to use critical thinking when they watch various shows. Teach them that reality shows do not depict the life of your average person and fictional shows do not depict the complexity of struggles people experience in life. Complex problems do not resolve in a 30- to 60-minute show, or even in a 2-hour movie.
  2. Expose your children to real world issues in an age appropriate manner. Let your children learn about the world at a level appropriate for their age. This may be as simple as taking a trip to another state or reading fiction stories about various people’s struggles. Trips to history museums are also a way to let our children learn about the world.
  3. Volunteer. Serving other people is wonderful way for your whole family to learn and have fun about the needs of the world around us. In the process, we also learn that people with needs are often people like us.
  4. Read. Research suggests that reading increases empathy and kindness. Read your children a story at bedtime. Even as children become teens and young adults, we can read a book at the same time (maybe one of their choice) and enjoy talking about it as you both read.

These are just four suggestions to help convey the values of your family to your children and teens. What are your suggestions for teaching our children the values we cherish instead of leaving it up to TV and videos? Share them below. We could all use some suggestions.

Is Free Play REALLY Better for Kids?

What happens when children get to play together without interference from adults?  Amazing things happen…like problem solving, creativity, independence, and learning limits (Read Make Your Child “a Head Taller Than Himself”). I’m not just making this up either. A recent study published in the School Community Journal explored the impact of children’s participation in recess and The Let Grow Play Club.  Study participants included 460 Kindergarten through fifth graders attending an elementary school in Long Island, NY. One hundred of these students were chosen to participate in The Play Club for one hour every week while the rest participated in regular school recess (40-minutes long). Results were obtained through observation, student interviews, and teacher interviews. What were the results? Good question.

In student interviews, the students actually noted that the Play Club helped them “stay focused” during school, increased their energy level and mood, and gave them the opportunity to socialize and make more friends.

Teacher interviews suggested that students who engaged in the Play Club were better able to focus and concentrate during school. Teachers also noted an improvement in social skills like negotiation and problem-solving without adult intervention. They were better able to make adjustments to meet challenges that naturally arise during play. Overall, they exhibited greater creativity.

Observations supported the interviews, revealing the same results.

You may be thinking, “But I’m not a teacher. I’m a parent. What does this have to do with me and our home?”  Well, play can have the same positive benefits in the home setting that it has in the school setting. If you want to give it a try, encourage your kids to go outside and play with their friends. If they have trouble doing so, help them come up with ideas. If they still have trouble, you might try the Let Grow Independence Kit and involve the neighbors in developing your children’s free play in the community. In the Let Grow Independence Kit, children can choose activities to do in their home. They will learn new things and have fun. In fact, a random sampling of kids and parents who have used the Let Grow Independence Kit revealed a “flourishing of idiosyncratic interests the kids would never have had the opportunity to pursue otherwise.” In other words, you might just be surprised at how much your children learn through play and what they develop an interest in during play. But don’t take my word for it. Let the children play…and watch what happens.

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