Archive for Author John Salmon

Let Them Know

It seems that listening has become a lost art in our society, even in our marriages and our families. Instead of listening, people seem to focus on asserting their opinion or defending their perspective. In the process, divisiveness deepens, a divisiveness that not only threatens our communities but our marriages and families as well.

Effective communication, on the other hand, is more than simply telling my side of the story or asserting my talking points louder than the other guy. Effective communication happens when people share information and stories, when those on both sides of the conversation feel safe to express themselves AND feel heard and understood by those involved in the conversation. In fact, assuring the other person feels listened to and understood may represent the very foundation on which effective communication is built. This is true in families as well.

How can you make sure the person you’re talking with feels like you have listened, heard, and understood them?

  1. Give the person talking your full attention with the sole purpose of understanding their perspective. Make eye contact. Ask clarifying questions—questions to help you understand their perspective, not questions to “make them think.” In fact, listen as though you are listening to the most important person in your life. In reality, when you’re talking to a family member, they are that important, aren’t they?
  2. Recognize that the person you’re listening to has a valid perspective. There are often multiple ways to view a situation. You may not agree with the other person’s perspective, but there are likely other people who do. And, even if you disagree, you may learn something important from their perspective. Be open. Listen deeply.
  3. Emphasize any areas of agreement you discover. There are likely ideas or values within the other person’s view with which you can agree. Look for those areas of agreement and explicitly acknowledge them.
  4. Restate the other person’s perspective to assure you have truly heard and understood. If they feel you have not quite understood, let them clarify. Set aside your own agenda until you can restate the other person’s viewpoint well enough that they say, “Yes, now you understand.”
  5. Listen to yourself and avoid words that tend to divide. For instance, “but” tends to increase the other person’s defensiveness. “And” does not seem to have the same detrimental impact. Words like “no,” “won’t,” and “don’t” contribute to divisiveness. Focus instead on using positive phrases like “I can see your passion” or “I look at that in a slightly different way.” These phrases take personal responsibility for the beliefs we hold without devaluing the other person.

These practices can be more challenging than they appear, especially in the midst of conflict. However, when you practice them, the other person will feel listened to and understood. They will know you value them and their opinion. More importantly, you will find that you resolve any disagreement more quickly and easily. Won’t that make family disagreements more bearable?

The Work of Children…and Adults

Fred Rogers is credited with saying, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” I agree. Alison Gopnik also agrees. She reviews research in her book The Gardner and the Carpenter which suggests:

  • Play helps children learn to interact with others. It allows them to practice negotiating and compromising as well as other social skills.
  • Exploratory play provides the opportunities for children to learn how things work. It helps them learn about their environment as well.
  • Pretend play encourages children to think about possibilities and options. It helps them consider potential responses to various situations. It provides an opportunity to learn how another person might think or feel in various situations. This can increase our children’s empathy and compassion.
  • As children play randomly with various toys and friends, unexpected situations arise. In response, our children learn how to better deal with the unexpected.

Review that short list of the benefits of play. We, as adults, will also benefit from learning and practicing those skills. And that’s not all. There are more things play provides that will benefit children and adults. For instance, play helps reduce depression and increase social connectedness. Play enhances a sense of personal agency. It promotes our ability to problem-solve. It improves our overall sense of well-being. What adult doesn’t want these attributes in their own life? And what parent does not want these attributes to grow within the lives of their children’s lives?

Mr. Rogers had it right. “Play really is serious learning,” but not just for children. It is “serious learning” for adults too. It’s “serious learning” for the whole family. With that in mind, I want to make a recommendation for you and your family. Take play seriously. Grab your children and play every day. Play a game. Play an imaginative, make-believe game or a board game. Engage in sports play. Play music. Playfully explore a new place. Meet another family and enjoy a playful time together. Choose whatever avenue of play you like best…just play…every day…play! Have fun… and reap the benefits of “the serious learning” of play for your whole family.

Jealousy in Love

I work with several young women who struggle to find healthy romantic relationships. One of the challenges I’ve observed (and these young women have pointed out to me time and again) is that the young men they date often get jealous of their success. The young men become insecure and attempt to control them when the woman is appropriately friendly with others or experiences a level of success or gets a raise or…or really anything that promotes their status. I want to deny this, but I have seen it happen too many times. Jealousy raises its green little head and shatters the relationship. Because of their partner’s insecurity, the young women are faced with the false choice of rising to their full potential or “dumbing it down” so “their guy doesn’t get jealous.” 

On the other hand, according to one of the great passages on love, “love is not jealous.”  Love celebrates the successes of others, girlfriend or spouse included. Love rejoices with the truth of their spouse’s God-given talent and ability. Instead of jealousy over a spouse’s strength and growth:

  • Love celebrates their success with them. Love rejoices with those who rejoice and weeps with those who weep. Enjoy the celebration of your spouse’s strengths and successes.
  • Love recognizes that jealousy is a feeling not an action. Jealousy flows from our own insecurities and inaccurate comparisons. We need not compare our lives to any other person. Each of us has our own strengths and roles. Accept and celebrate the diversity of the people in your life. Rather than allowing jealousy to arise, celebrate the strength of diversity.
  • Love also recognizes jealousy as a sign to address our own insecurities. Life can often arouse feelings of insecurity and insignificance in us. Jealousy signals a need to resolve past issues that have contributed to feelings of insecurity. Take time to work through the past and make any internal changes needed.

Jealousy has interfered with the formation of loving relationships and the stability of loving marriages. Don’t let it destroy your marriage or love. Do the personal work of resolving your past and building your sense of a secure identity so you can rejoice with the successes of your spouse.

To Grow, Teach Your Younger Self

College age (the late teens and early twenties) has become a time of rapid transition and change. Many young adults may have more addresses during this time of life than they did from birth through high school. Along with different addresses are different roommates and different neighborhood experiences. They also experience a changing, developing sense of identity as they move from childhood to adulthood, from a stage of dependency and living within the rules of family to independence and developing their own life rules. They may even experiment with behaviors we don’t especially like. Importantly though, they also exhibit a growing sense of wisdom and insight. A study from the University of Surrey capitalized on that growing wisdom and insight. They had participants between the ages of 20- and 24-years-old look at photographs of their teen selves while reflecting aloud, offering advice and reflecting on life. Many told themselves to set clear boundaries, let go of bad relationships, or embrace change.  In general, their reflections clarified three lessons they learned.

  1. Create a safe space. Creating a safe space includes choosing supportive friends and walking away from negative relationships that might harm their well-being in some way. It also included setting and maintaining clear boundaries to support their growth, self-respect, and emotional health.
  2. Take a broader perspective. These young adults encouraged their teen selves to understand that everyone faces challenges. They reminded themselves that they were not alone in their struggles but that their struggles represented the common struggle of humanity. They reflected on the importance of valuing themselves for their character, not their appearance. This broader perspective also led them to resist social labels that try to “pigeonhole” them and instead live a life of character based on personal values.
  3. Trust yourself. In this category, participants emphasized the importance of taking care of themselves, focusing on personal growth, and avoiding comparing themselves to others. They noted that failure represented an opportunity for growth as much as success did, that persevering through challenges actually promoted growth and development in a positive way.

Those lessons sound like excellent advice for everyone to learn, especially those in their late teens and early twenties. Maybe you have a child in that age range. If you do, you might enjoy a fun family night of giving advice to your younger selves. Give everyone a picture of their teen self and allow each one to spend several minutes reflecting on themselves before offering any advice to their younger self that they would like to give. Parents could do this as well as young adults. You and your young adult might just learn some important lessons about life, family, and self. You might find yourself having some great discussion as a family about life, meaning, and important lessons we all need to learn.

Family, Anger, and the Heart

Anger…everyone experiences anger. We get angry over so many things. Even those we love can arouse our anger at times. Many times, however, our anger is not a “righteous anger” over some injustice or true wrong but a reflection of our selfishness—things don’t go “my” way, someone interferes with “me” getting what “I” want, or something making “me look bad.” Perhaps it is that selfish aspect of anger that can make it so detrimental to our relational and physical health. It’s true, anger is detrimental to our physical health.

In fact, a study recently compared the impact of sadness, anxiety, and anger on vascular functioning, which impacts heart health. The results of this study revealed that sadness and anxiety did not impact vascular functioning, but anger did. Anger led to an “impairment in blood vessel dilation,” which can increase the risk of heart disease.

Why do I tell you this? Because I know you love your family with all your heart and, as a result, you want to protect your heart and your family’s heart by helping everyone manage anger effectively. Do so begins with you. When you model effective anger management, your spouse and children will likely learn better anger management skills as well. What are these skills?

  • Identifying the thoughts that escalate your “anger cycle.” When you become angry, what thoughts go through your mind? These thoughts will likely follow a pattern, so identify the pattern. Does the pattern of thought involve personalizing? Catastrophizing or generalizing? Blaming? Unrealistic expectations? As you identify these anger promoting thought patterns, write down alternative, yet realistic, thoughts that will help manage your anger, soothe your anger, see the situation in a more realistic manner rather than through the lens of anger. For example, rather than generalizing, make the thought specific. Instead of catastrophizing, let the thought reflect the temporary nature of the situation. If you hold unrealistic expectations, write down realistic expectations.
  • While looking at your “anger cycle,” become aware of what you feel physically as anger escalates. How does your body feel different when you are a little agitated versus angry versus “about to blow”? Where do you first feel anger in your body? How do you recognize anger in your neck, torso, hands, legs, head? Now, practice relaxation exercises for each body part. Learn how you can help that body part relax and “stay calm” in the midst of anger.
  • Breath. Take a deep breath and blow the breath out slowly as if you were blowing through a straw. As you let your breath slowly escape, turn your head to look around the room and notice the details of where you are. You’ll be surprised how much your anger will calm while doing this simple breath.
  • Walk away for 30 minutes. Rather than dwell and let the anger escalate, ask to take a break with the promise of returning to the issue at hand after 30 minutes. During your break, don’t dwell on the issue triggering your anger. If you are angry at a loved one, remember the loving times you have enjoyed with them. Sing a song. Do a puzzle. Read a magazine. Chances are, as you allow your mind to dwell on something other than your anger, you will return calmer and may even wonder why it had escalated so much to begin with.
  • Apologize for the part you played in the situation that aroused the anger. Apologize with no “but’s.” Simply take responsibility for any part you played in the anger arousing situation. Apology is humbling, but it reflects love and strength. It proves stronger than anger.
  • Practice forgiveness. Don’t hold a grudge. Let go of the desire for revenge and begin to intentionally think about the other person’s well-being. It’s an act of altruism and often demands a price, but forgiveness contributes to decreasing anger, increasing justice, and increasing intimacy.

Don’t let anger infect the hearts of you or your family members. Instead, let anger signal the need to relax your body, assess your thoughts and expectations, apologize, and forgive. Your heart and your family’s heart will thank you. In fact, they’ll love you wholeheartedly for managing your anger effectively.

The Success of the “Good Enough Parent”

Donald Winnicott, a British pediatrician, coined the term “good enough mother” in the 1950’s. Today, however, many parents fear that “good enough” just isn’t good enough. They strive to become the “perfect parent.” But becoming a “perfect parent” just isn’t possible. In fact, striving to become the “perfect parent” will backfire and create even more difficulties. In fact, a study that involved over 700 parents found that the pressure to become a “perfect parent” contributed to parental burnout. In this study, 57% of parents reported symptoms of burnout in relation to their role as a parent. High self-expectations about what children “should be doing” and what opportunities they “should have” contributed to the pressure to become a “perfect parent.” Comparisons to other children and families also contributed to unrealistic expectations. Many parents see other families on social media smiling and having fun or in public as they put their best foot forward and think, “How are they doing all that? Why can’t I do it? What’s wrong with me?” We forget that we only see the positive side of their family life. In reality, they may be emotionally and physically exhausted and thinking the same thing about you.

Parental burnout had several negative repercussions in this study. First, parental burnout led to parents feeling more depressed and anxious. They became more irritable toward others in their lives. This interfered with their ability to have positive interactions with their children. Second, parents experiencing burnout tended to have children with more mental health issues like anxiety and depression as well. Children need healthy parents. The healthiest children also have parents who take time for self-care in order to manage their own emotional, mental, and physical health.

A third finding in this study, and the one I find most interesting, involved findings around what contributed to the healthiest children in the study. Specifically, “the more free play time that parents spend with their children and the lighter the load of structured extracurricular activities, the fewer mental health issues in their children.” Isn’t that interesting? When parents take time to engage their children in free play, it benefits their children. To have time for free play as a family will mean less time involved in structured extracurricular activities. In other words, the healthiest children and families did not succumb to the social pressure to achieve, the cultural expectation of over-scheduled lives, or the demand for involvement in multiple structured activities to prepare for future opportunities. They simply enjoyed one another. They probably still engaged in some structured activities, but a limited amount. They did not allow the cultural pressure for achievement and success to drive their family. Instead, they enjoyed time with one another in fun, playful activities. They didn’t feel the need to become the “perfect parent” with the “perfect child” who experiences “perfect success and achievement” in all areas to prepare for college and their future. Instead, they celebrated being a “good enough parent” with a happy child who experiences success in some areas while laughing and playing in even more areas. They enjoyed The Blessings of a B Minus…and the blessings of a healthy, happy family and child. Doesn’t that sound inviting?

Marriage Advice from Couples Married 40+ Years

Maintaining a healthy, happy marriage can prove challenging in a world focused on self, personal career, instant gratification, and “me.” It actually requires a shift in focus. This begs the question: what is the “secret” of a healthy, happy marriage? That’s what researchers asked 180 couples who had enjoyed a healthy, 40-plus year marriage. Here are the top four answers given…well, actually six with two ties.

  • Tied for the fourth most common answer is compromise and love. Compromise is that “give and take” of a marriage. One person can’t always receive while the other gives. Happy marriages focus on compromise, developing a solution that satisfies “us” instead of “me.” Compromise flows when both partners are more interested in their relational health and their partner’s happiness and well-being than they are about their own wants and desires. Love speaks to the need for each partner to feel valued, respected, and cared for. It involves knowing that your partner cares more deeply and will compromise to promote your happiness. A partner knows their spouse loves them because their spouse turns to them first when celebrating a success of any kind and when mourning a loss of any kind. Love seeks out the one they love first.
  • Number three brings in another tie between communication and shared values. It is not surprising that these two go together. Two people enter a marriage with their own values and learn to negotiate shared values from there. This demands communication, lots of healthy communication (and compromise as noted in #4). Couples forge their shared values through living together, talking together, and talking some more. This level of communication demands that we value the other person enough to believe they have a legitimate point of view, a point of view as worthy as our own and a point of view worthy of deep consideration. With this attitude and with lots of communication, a couple develops a shared sense of values that holds them close to one another.
  • The number two secret of a healthy marriage is practicing unselfish, even sacrificial, giving toward our spouse. This flies in the face of the hyper-individualized society in which we live. An unselfish spouse considers their partner as “more important than themselves.” They do not merely look out for their own personal interests but also for the interests of their spouse” (Philippians 2:3). In seeking to meet the needs of their partner, an unselfish spouse willingly makes sacrifices. Such sacrifices are a lost art today, but an essential ingredient in a long-term, healthy marriage according to those married for 40-plus years.
  • And the number one secret of a healthy marriage? Commitment. Commitment remains essential for a long-term, healthy marriage. Every marriage will experience good times and hard times. Affection and attraction may wax and wane, as will your sense of emotional closeness. However, the commitment to “stay the course,” to “take the long view” and “hold on,” contributes to the rekindling of affection, the deepening of trust and, as a result, intimacy, and a maturing of attraction. Commitment is the glue that keeps all these ingredients in play and growing over time.

There you have it, ingredients for a long-term, healthy, and happy marriage straight from the mouths of those who have over 40-years of healthy marriage. Which ones do you need to improve in your marriage?

A Social Media Surprise

A study that tracked 800 participants between the ages of 10- to 18-years by collecting data five times arrived at a surprising finding…a finding that may bring relief to many parents. This study suggests that teens who used social media actually spent more time with friends offline as well. That’s good news because face-to-face interactions (offline interactions) seem to be associated with positive mental health. Face-to-face interactions also provide opportunities to learn and practice positive social skills. What a surprising relief! Using social media did not reduce offline, face-to-face interactions. Instead, “higher social media engagement was linked with increased time spent with friends in person” as well.

(There was one group of teens for whom this was not true. If a teen struggled with social anxiety, using social media at a high rate puts them at risk of developing poorer social skills.)

Another study explored how digital communication impacted connectedness, positive social comparison, authentic self-presentation, civil participation, and self-control. This study suggests that teens fare better, have more positive digital communications that exhibit the above traits noted above when their parents actively engage with them around positive online communication and “know their way around technology.”

Social media and digital communication are rather new parenting challenges. It’s good to know that social media use does not reduce offline face-to-face interactions (except, perhaps, for those struggling with symptoms of social anxiety). However, that does not mean we simply let go and ignore how our children utilize social media and technology. In fact, as the second study suggests, our children learn to manage social media and technology in a healthy manner when they have an actively engaged parent who also manages their social media and technology use in a healthy manner. With all this in mind, let me offer two suggestions for all parents:

  1. Utilize technology and social media yourself but do so in a healthy manner. Don’t phub your children through “technoference.” Make sure your actions reveal that you love your children more than your phone, tablet, or computer.
  2. Remain actively involved in your children’s lives. Set healthy, age-appropriate boundaries on technology. Recognize that setting healthy boundaries will require some discussion as your children mature. Play games online and offline with them. Get to know their friends. Text, not just to check in on them or give them a directive, but also to communicate something fun in the moment. Most importantly, remain actively engaged in your children’s online and offline lives.

Five Things Teens Want You to Know

Ellen Galinsky, author of The Breakthrough Years, surveyed over 1,600 people between 9 years old and 19 years old and their parents. She collated their answer into five important messages teens want adults to know about them.

One, teens want adults to understand their development. All too often adults view teens as “deficient adults”–immature, moody, or risk-taking little adults. Unfortunately, that’s like calling a toddler ” a deficient preschooler.” Toddlers and preschoolers, like adolescents and adults, are two unique developmental stages in а person’s life. In the adolescent’s unique stage of development, exploration and adventure are necessary. They help the teen individuate, learn about their likes and dislikes, limits, and passions. One researcher noted that teens were “learning to be brave.” I believe they are also learning to be safe, to live their values, to impact their world.

Two, they want adults to talk WITH them, not AT them. They don’t want adults to simply tell them what to do. They want to discuss what to do. They want to be heard and considered in the process of finding a solution together.

Three, teens don’t want to be stereotyped. Even tweens and teens are unique, different from one another. Each teen is an individual with unique strengths and weakness, abilities and needs. Unfortunately adults (all of us I fear) too often lump all teens into same category… and the categories are often negative. For instance, adults often talk as if all teens are impulsive, at risk of addiction to any variety of things, hormonally driven and sexual obsessed, and rebellious. We forget that many teens have come up with creative solutions to community problems because they are willing to break with “the way we’ve always done it.” Many teens volunteer and show extreme kindness. Many teens do not use substances and love the outdoors. Teens have as much unique individuality as adults… Maybe more.

Four, teens want adults to understand their needs. In particular, teens want adults to understand their growing need for autonomy as well as their need for relationships and caring connection. They want adults to understand their need to feel supported & respected, especially by the important adults in their lives. And teens want to find ways to make an important contribution to their home, community, world.

Five teens want to learn stuff that’s useful.  They want to learn skills like goal setting, collaboration, communication, emotional intelligence, and perspective-taking. These skills build success overtime. They contribute to better relationships, effective work environments, greater work success, and healthier marriages and families. Who wouldn’t want to learn these skills!

Now you know these five facts teens want you to know. Think about ways in which you can apply this knowledge into the relationships you share with the teens in your life. You’ll find a greater joy in the relationship when you do.

Social Media and a Better Body Image

Body image is a growing issue among young women, women like our daughters and our wives. However, a study from York University’s faculty of health showed a way to help improve body image. This study involved freshman college women (first year undergraduates) who were divided into two groups. One group continued to use social media as they always did. The other group took a “one-week vacation” from all social media apps including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and others. The study began with surveys assessing the baseline of self-esteem and body image. The participants completed these surveys again after the on-week intervention.

The results? The young women who took a one-week vacation from social media use exhibited an increase in positive self-esteem and body satisfaction. The increase in positive self-esteem included all areas of self-esteem assessed, including performance, appearance, and social effectiveness. Additionally, those who exhibited the greatest improvement in self-esteem and body satisfaction were the most vulnerable, those most focused on a “thin ideal.”

Why does taking “a week off” social media contribute to an increase in positive self-esteem and body satisfaction? Good question. First, a week off social media means spending less time making comparisons to others. It limits the fear-of-missing-out that grows out of those comparisons. It also means less time viewing filtered images of other people’s bodies. Secondly, less time on social media may mean spending more time socializing face-to-face, sleeping, getting outdoors, getting exercise, or some other healthier activity. In other words, the time spent on social media may get replaced with healthier activities.

What does all this mean for you and your family? That’s the important question for me. If you, or someone in your family, struggle with body image and self-esteem, you might try taking a week off of social media. Maybe you can even take a week off of social media as a family. You might replace the time spent on social media sits with family time playing games, getting outdoors, interacting with actual eye contact. All these activities will contribute to greater family joy and intimacy. I’m checking my summer now so I can include a one-week social media vacation for my family. When will you schedule your family social media vacation?

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