Archive for Author John Salmon

A Mother’s Power to Raise Generous Children

Would you like your children to become generous, giving people? A study of 74 preschool children and their mothers suggests that mothers play an important role in helping children become generous.

In this study, 4-year-old children earned 20 tokens by engaging in a variety of activities. The children could then exchange all the tokens for a prize or donate some or all of them to children experiencing sickness or some other hardship.

In the meantime, the children’s mothers completed a survey to measure their level of compassionate love. This whole process was repeated two years later when the children were 6-years-old (only 54 of the pairs returned) and produced similar results. What did the research reveal? I’m glad you asked.

The children whose mothers showed a greater level of compassionate love exhibited greater generosity. They were more likely to donate some of their tokens to help other child in need. In addition, children who donated more tokens also exhibited a calmer physiology after sharing. This suggests a greater likelihood of good feelings. In other words, a mother’s compassionate love contributed to her child’s greater generosity and her child’s ability to self-soothe.

If that sounds like something you want for your children, start living out a compassionate love in the presence of your children today. Here are some simple ways to get started.

  • Help other people and involve your children in helping other people. Let your children witness your kindness.
  • Be available to those who need help.
  • Show kindness to your family and friends. This can be as simple as pouring a drink for your spouse or driving your child to their practices. It might also be as involved as making a meal for a friend who recently lost a loved one or helping a friend move.
  • Show kindness to strangers. Offer directions to someone who asks. Buy a meal for the homeless person on the street. Pay the bill for the person behind you in the coffee shop. Show kindness whenever you can.
  • Point out kindness that others engage in. We spend a lot of time in our society focused on the negative. We criticize, complain, and voice suspicion easily. Make it a practice to focus on the kindness of others instead. Point out other people’s acts of kindness—the times they let someone merge, the holding of a door for someone else to go through, the polite language used, the simple smile, etc.  
  • Volunteer together. Pick a favorite charity and volunteer there with your child. Volunteer at your church or a local social group (like scouts). Go to a nursing home and play board games or card games with the elderly. You might do this monthly or annually. Either way, volunteer together.

We all want our children to grow into generous, giving people. After all, they will be taking care of us in our old age. They will create the world…hopefully a world filled with generosity and kindness. Let’s start building that world today by sharing compassionate love with our children in our homes.

Gratitude, Family, & the Gift of Self-Worth

Family offers the soil in which we nurture one another’s sense of value and worth. That sounds kind of sentimental, doesn’t it? It’s also an obvious statement barely worth repeating. Nonetheless, it is true. But do you know what one major soil nutrient will contribute to your spouse’s and your children’s sense of value and worth? Well…there is more than one but this one has the power to enhance a person’s sense of worth and value more than you might imagine. In fact, it is essential in the nurturance of each family member’s mental and emotional health.  It’s time we stop overlooking it and make sure the soil of our families is rich in this nutrient. It won’t be difficult because this nutrient is easily added to your home and family. It is simple, can be added daily, and has amazing power. What is it? Gratitude. All you need to do is express gratitude and thanks. Sounds too easy to be true, doesn’t it?  However, a series of four studies shows it is true. Gratitude does nurture value and worth in your family members. Let me briefly share what these four studies revealed about the impact of gratitude.

  1. People who received thanks showed more willingness to continue helping the person who gave them thanks.  In fact, the expression of gratitude “more than doubled the likelihood that helpers would provide assistance again.”
  2. People who received thanks showed a greater willingness to help a third party after receiving thanks. They were more willing to help a person other than the one who thanked them.
  3. People who received thanks, worked longer to help the one who thanked them. They increased their productivity by more than 50%  and spent 15% more time helping.
  4. Moreover, analysis of these findings reveals that when a person receives thanks, they feel more socially valued. This increase in feeling socially valued led to their greater willingness to continue helping and to persist longer in their helping activities.

Gratitude is powerful. It enhances our family members sense of personal value…and their willingness to help others. So, if you want your family members to help more within the family, help those outside the family, and do it more often, thank them for their contributions to the home. Share gratitude. Vocalize your gratitude for all they do. They will know you value them and their help. As a result, they will help more people, more often, and with greater effort.

Your Family & the Tough Conversation

Families face tough conversations in today’s world. Whether focused on politics, your teen’s level of freedom, sexuality, or which swimsuit your children can wear, these conversations can quickly become emotionally tumultuous. Hurtful words may “slip out” and relationships can be damaged. Knowing your family’s conversational style provide a first step in making these conversations more productive.

Research on conversation styles in families has identified four categories of conversation styles in families. The styles fall along two dimensions: conversational orientation and conformity. Conversational orientation represents how much and how spontaneously families talk about multiple topics. Conformity refers to how much family members feel expected to conform to the views of one or two family members. With that in mind, let’s briefly explore each style.

  1. A laissez-faire conversation style is low in both conversational orientation and conformity. They place little value on conformity and communication. They tend to have limited conversation and share few topics. Family members can differ in opinions and each person is encouraged to make their own decisions with little input from family. As you can imagine, families using this style of conversation often lack intimate, emotional  connection. They tend to be disengaged from one another. Because of the lack of support given in decision-making, children often grow to question their ability to make decisions.
  2. A protective conversation style is high in conformity but low in conversational orientation.  Communication emphasizes obedience to parental authority and conformity. Parents see little reason for explaining the reason behind decisions and simply expect the family to conform. As a result, differences of opinion are not generally discussed. Unfortunately, positive conflict resolution and communication skills are not practiced either. So, when disagreements do naturally occur, the only way to resolve them is to conform to the authority’s decision. Once again, you can see how this limits family intimacy as well as the healthy development of self-knowledge and communication skills.
  3. A pluralistic conversational style is high in conversational orientation and low in conformity. These families have open, unrestrained conversation on a wide range of topics. Parents accept children’s opinions and decisions providing they are well supported by reason and explanation.  Conflict is addressed using positive conflict-resolution strategies and generally resolved. Family conversation is valued as is independent and autonomous thinking. This style does promote competence in communication, confidence in decision-making, and conflict resolution. However, since it is low in conformity, the family tends to be permissive, which can result in more behavioral problems. Ironically, permissiveness also tends to contribute to lower self esteem in children.
  4. Finally, a consensual conversational style is high in conversational orientation and conformity. This creates a tension between the pressure to agree and so maintain the existing hierarchy on the one hand, and open communication and exploration of ideas on the other. These families strive to balance independence and conformity, expression and understanding. Parents encourage children to voice their opinions and ideas but invest energy and time in explaining their own values, beliefs, and decisions to their children. Discussions are acceptable and encouraged but volatile conflict is generally thought of negatively. As a result, the family does model and teach problem-solving and conflict resolution skills. They also develop more intimacy and connectedness.  

The question to ask yourself as you move toward having the tough conversations is: which type of conversational style describes your family? How will that conversational style impact your approach to the topic? How does your style influence your goal? Is your current style the one you want to continue using or would you like to approach this topic differently?  Do you utilize the same style in relationship to your children as you do in relationship to your spouse? Will this conversational style change as your child matures? How?

Knowledge of your family’s conversational style and the answer to these questions will begin to help you successfully engage in the tough conversations with your family.

In Marital Conflict, “What” Is In Charge

When it comes to conflict with your spouse, “what” is in charge. Not who, “what.” If left to its own devices, the “what” in charge of your marital conflict will leave no “who” in charge. Let me explain.

In many marital arguments, anger and fear represent the “what” that takes charge. Anger and fear shape our reactions and our words. When anger takes charge, it may lead us to blame our spouse or our parents or our boss…anybody but ourselves. Anger may also direct us to belittle our spouse, maybe even call our spouse a few names. When anger is the “what” in charge of conflict, the result in disaster.

Fear is “what” takes charge of marital conflict even more often than anger. Fear, in fact, is often the true commanding officer of the conflict and anger merely fear’s emissary. Fear, if it does not turn to its emissary anger, will lead us to become defensive, distant, or avoidant during the marital conflict.

When anger or fear take charge of a conflict, there is no “who” in charge. Anger and fear have formed a coup and taken charge…and the results are disastrous: blaming, defending, belittling, feeling rejected, emotional distance, more anger, and more fear. The hurt caused by anger and fear puts us on guard, ever vigilant for the next slight, the next provocation. There is no security and no winner when anger and fear are the “what” in charge of your marital disagreement.

None of us want fear and anger to run our martial conflict. So, “what” do we want to take charge of our marital conflicts? Empathy. Empathy commands us to listen and intentionally work to understand. Empathy directs us to seek connection and intimacy above “winning” or “being right.” Empathy calms the fear and resolves the anger. “What”—anger, fear, or empathy—may take charge of your marital conflict, but “WHO” determines which “what” will take charge. “Who” will make that decision? You. Only you can choose how you will engage in the conflict. Only you can choose which “what” will take charge of the marital conflict—anger, fear, or empathy. You, only you, can choose your response. Be the “who” that takes charge of the “what” that shapes your response during marital conflict.

Step back. Take a breath. Choose “empathy” as the “what” to direct your conflict. You will be so glad you did. And do you know “who” else will be glad? Your spouse.

The New Order of “Awe-Walkers”

Would you like your family to experience more happiness? Less upset? Greater social connection? If you answer yes, the New Order of Awe-Walkers invites you to join their ranks. It’s free (well, I just made it up) and the required activities can be completed in as little as 15 minutes a week. I decided to start the New Order of Awe-Walkers in response to a recent piece of research. In this research, a group of people in their 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s were divided into groups by researchers affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco. Both groups were asked to go for a 15-minute walk once a week for 8 weeks. Both groups were also asked to take a “selfie” during their walk and send it to “the lab.” Finally, both groups were asked to complete a daily on-line assessment of their mood.

Only one group, however, was given instructions to cultivate awe as they walked. Specifically, they were asked to walk somewhere new, pay attention to details, and see “everything with fresh, childlike eyes.” This group became the “awe-walkers.” The other group simply went for a walk.

Not surprisingly, the “awe-walkers” improved their ability to discover and amplify awe. They also reported greater happiness, less feeling of upset, and greater feelings of social connection than the “non-awe-walkers.”

Even more surprising to me, the “selfies” taken by the “awe-walkers” changed over the time of the experiment. The “awe-walker,” although still in the “selfie,” became less focal to the picture and even secondary as the scenery around them grew more prominent and focal. In a sense, the world became larger. They became a little less self-focused in their selfie and more “a part” of a larger, more awe-inspiring world.

Based on this research, I invite your family to join the New Order of “Awe-Walkers.” To join only involves two steps… make that three.

  1. Commit to going for a 15-minute walk with your family every week.
  2. While walking, pay attention to the details around you. Intentionally see “everything with fresh, childlike eyes.”
  3. Talk with your family as you walk, sharing with one another what each one finds “awe-
    some.”

That’s it. Just fifteen minutes once a week to enjoy an “awe-walk” with your family….and then share the increase in happiness and social connection it will produce. Won’t you join the New Order of “Awe-Walkers”? (For more on the power of awe for your family read Using the Power of Awe for Your Family.)

Those Aren’t Fightin’ Words

Every couple has their disagreements. Parents and teens have disagreements as well. Sometimes those disagreements escalate. Emotions flair. Words fly. We say things we wish we had never said. Rather than letting the escalation go that far, try doing or saying something different, something to calm emotions and deescalate the situation. Here are some words to try. Believe me, “these aren’t fightin’ words.”

Even if you disagree:

  • “Good point.”
  • “I’m glad you explained that to me.” “
  • “So, you’re saying that….”

To move into a conversation:

  • “Explain that to me one more time. I want to make sure I understand.”
  • “I’m not sure I really understand. Can you explain it more?”
  • “I understand why you would want that.”
  • “I see. That makes sense now. Have you thought about…?
  • “I hadn’t thought about that before.”

If it starts to escalate:

  • “You’re really passionate about this aren’t you?
  • “I can tell this means a lot to you.”
  • “You sound angry/upset/ frustrated.”
  • “I have trouble listening when you speak that way. Could you speak more calmly (or ‘change your tone’ or ‘lower your voice please’?”
  • “I’m feeling overwhelmed, can we take a break and finish this conversation at (note a time)?”

Good to say at any time…and all the time:

  • “I love you.”
  • “Even if we disagree, we’ll figure it out together.”
  • “I’m glad we’re together.”
  • “We make good team.”
  • “I love you.”

These phrases are what John Gottman calls “repair statements.” They can help calm emotions during a disagreement and keep you on track for a positive resolution. Give them a try. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Help, My Child ALWAYS Argues With Me

If you’re a parent, you’ve had the experience. You know the one. It’s the experience of making one simple request of your child only to hear them start to argue with you…AGAIN! Suddenly, the last few days come to mind and you notice that every time you said something to our child it turns into an argument. And, every time they spoke to you, it became an argument. Those days of arguments feel like weeks and those weeks suddenly feel like months of constant arguing. I know the feeling. So, if you’ve ever been there, if you’ve ever thought “Help. All my child does is argue,” here are a few tips to help stop the cycle.

First, recognize that arguing is normal for children. It provides them the opportunity to practice using their developing cognitive skills. It helps them assert their growing independence. It even provides them the opportunity to think through their priorities, values, and morals. After all, it’s a lot more effective to let mom and dad debate one side than to debate both sides of the argument in my own mind.  Knowing that arguing is developmentally appropriate means you do not have to take it personal. It’s not about you. It’s all part of the process of growing up. Let them bump.

Second, arguing is not about being right. Again, your child is asserting independence, testing your fortitude, practicing cognitive skills. You can focus on the relationship rather than proving yourself right and your child wrong. You can focus on connection. Remember, your child learns best from those they feel connected to, those with whom they have a relationship. As a rule: connect first, teach second. Relationships rule.

Third, sometimes the best way to stop the cycle of arguing it to not argue back. Take a breath, bite your tongue, and do not argue back. In fact, as soon as you take the bait and respond with an argument, you have given your child the power. By NOT engaging in the argument, on the other hand, you teach your children how to have a respectful argument with someone they disagree with.

Fourth, acknowledge your child’s stated concern and implicit feelings. Many times, our children simply want to be deeply heard. When you restate their concern and reflect their feelings back to them, they will know you are listening. They will learn you value them enough to listen deeply. They will feel deeply heard and trust you more. A simple pattern to assure you listen deeply is to say something like, “It sounds like you feel ‘x’ because ‘their statement of concern.’” After they confirm you understand, you can follow up with a statement like “Let’s work on that together” or “Could I explain my reasons as we work together on this.” This will open the door to discuss the issue at hand and, more importantly, connect with your child.

Arguing is normal. It is not about you. It is an opportunity to connect with your children while learning more about them and their development. So, do NOT simply argue back. Listen. Learn. And work together.

Your Child Learns Best When

We all want our children to learn life skills. A study published in Nature Human Behavior [August, 2020] reveals a great way to help our children learn those life skills quickly. In this study, participants were asked to choose one of two symbols on a computer screen. Some symbols resulted in a cash reward at the end of the exercise while other symbols took the cash reward away (punishment). The initial step in this study involved “trial and error learning.” In this section of the study, the participants quickly learned which symbols offered the reward (receiving cash) and which offered punishment (taking away the cash reward). Interestingly, they learned from the reward symbols more than they learned from symbols that punished.

In the second part of the study, the participants made their choice and were then immediately shown which symbol gave them a reward and which resulted in a loss.  In this scenario, the participants learned equally well from reward and punishment. It seems that immediate teaching led to both reward and punishment being effective in helping the participant learn which symbol rewarded and which symbol punished.

In the final segment of this research, participants completed “forced-choice trials.” In this case the participants were told which symbol to choose, either the reward symbol or the punishment symbol. They simply chose the symbol they were instructed to choose. In these trials the participants learned much more slowly.

Consider these findings and what they can teach us as parents.

  1. Participants learned more quickly when they were able to make a choice rather than being told what to do. Our children will learn more quickly and more effectively when given a choice. We may not always like the choices they make or the consequences of those choices, but they will learn better when they are allowed to make a choice. So, if you want your children to learn well, allow them to make a choice whenever possible…and it is often possible.
  2. Participants learned more effectively in response to rewards than they did in response to punishment. Our children will also learn best in response to rewards. Rewards can range from a simple “thank you” to a trip to the toy store. The most powerful reward, however, is your attention, recognition, and time. Notice your children’s work and positive behavior. Acknowledge it. This is the most powerful reward you can offer to encourage positive behavior as well as reinforcing their learning.
  3. Punishment did help the participants learn when accompanied by teaching. There will be times in which we have to punish our children. Children learn best from punishment when it is accompanied by teaching. When your child “loses” a toy or a privilege because of some misbehavior, explain the reason for this punishment. Teach them the positive behavior you desire to replace the behavior you are punishing.

These 3 principles all come back to making choices. Children, like all people, learn best when given a choice. And, when children learn through their choices, they also grow more cooperative, competent, and motivated. They learn from the consequences more readily…and they become more engaged in learning in general. Give your children a choice and watch them learn.

The Big Things or the Best Things in Small Packages

I’ve heard it said that “big things come in small packages” and that “the best things come in small packages.” When it comes to marital conflict, I agree with both statements.

Sometimes “big things do come in small packages.” Unfortunately, these “small packages” can bring “big things” like dynamite to blow your marriage up. For instance, “small package words” like name-calling can create “big thing problems” and explode in your face. “Small package words” include phrases like “That’s stupid,” “You always burn the toast,” “You’re lazy,” or “You never clean this house.” These “small package words” create “big thing problems” that become a minefield in your marriage.  One wrong step and they explode to release anger that has built up in response to these “small package words.”

“Small package actions” can also cause “big thing problems.” Rolling the eyes, a demeaning laugh, or simply walking away in the middle of a discussion are “small problem actions” that lead to “big thing problems.” It’s true that “big things come in small packages” but those “small packages” can blow your marriage up.

On the other hand, the “best things come in small packages” as well. For instance, “small package words” like “Thank you,” “I love you,” or “You’re the best” are the “best things” to hear. Through such “small packages” we know we are loved, valued, appreciated, and adored…and those are the “best things” we can receive in our marriage.

“Small package actions” can also give us the “best things.” For instance, intentional and patiently listening to our spouse is one of the “best things” we can offer.  Such a “small package” but one that reveals the “best things,” our love and concern.

Another “small package” that gives our spouse the “best things” is a thoughtful response or loving question. “Small package” statements like “Tell me more about that,” “You sound excited (sad, unsure, or whatever emotion fits the context),” or “Can you explain that more so I can understand better?” These short phrases, “small packages” so to speak, express interest and value in the one we love and that’s one of the “best things” we can offer our spouse.

Yes, “big things” and “the best things come in small packages.” Just make sure the “small package” you give to your spouse is one that gives the “best things” you have to give.

What Makes a Successful Marriage?

Researchers from Western University in London Ontario asked a question: “What makes for a good relationship?” To answer this question, they analyzed data collected over an average of six years from 11,196 couples…. all to discover  the best predictors of a successful relationship. They considered how each partner perceived their spouse and relationship as well as the individual characteristics of both partners. What did they discover?

A person’s perception of their partner and their relationship with their partner was the best predictor of relationship satisfaction. Three specific qualities that had the greatest impact included:

  • Perceived partner commitment
  • Appreciation
  • Sexual satisfaction

So, if you want to have a great marriage, build your relationship in each of the three areas noted above by doing the following.

  • Pay attention to ways your spouse shows their commitment to you and your marriage. Your spouse may show their commitment by working around the house or by getting up everyday to work. They may show their commitment through their words, their actions, or touch. Become a student of your spouse. Pay attention and learn how they show commitment.  When they do something that seems unloving, assume love, pause, then respond.   
  • Ask your spouse what you can do to let them know you are committed to your marriage. This will assure that you know how to show your spouse your commitment to your relationship in ways they will see and understand. Then do it. Don’t just ask once. Things may change. So, keep asking and keep doing.
  • Make it a habit to appreciate your spouse. Appreciate their appearance. Thank your spouse for cooking dinner, doing laundry, washing the car, and every other action they take to support their family. Appreciate your spouse verbally every day.
  • Talk about sex. Remember, sex is about more than what happens between the sheets… much more. As Kevin Leman has said, “Sex begins in the kitchen.” So, ask yourself: what will put your spouse “in the mood”? What brings your spouse the greatest pleasure? What words or actions might increase your spouse’s sexual satisfaction? Listen to their answers. They may surprise you. Share your own answers as well. Enjoy the discussion… and the knowledge you gain.

Building a relationship in which your spouse can feel satisfied and secure is a gift to your marriage and your family. Your spouse will benefit, your children will benefit, and you will benefit. You and your spouse will enjoy the security and joy of greater relationship satisfaction and intimacy. Your children will enjoy the freedom to mature, knowing that your marriage is a safe haven from which they can explore and grow.

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