Archive for Author John Salmon

A Surprising Factor in Your Child’s Academic Success

Prosocial skills—”the propensity to act kindly or generously toward peers and other people.”  Kindness and generosity. Don’t we all want our children to become kind, generous adults? In fact, we want them to practice kindness and generosity even as children. And for good reasons. Children who demonstrate more prosocial behaviors develop fewer emotional and behavioral problems than their less prosocial peers, especially in poorer neighborhoods and schools. Kindness and generosity “protect against risk of emotional problems in low socioeconomic neighborhoods.” But here is a surprise. A recent study suggests that a child’s kindness and generosity (their prosocial behavior) may actually improve their academic success.

For this study, researchers followed 1,175 children from 4-years-old through 7-years-old in Bradford, England. In general, the results suggested that children’s prosocial behavior positively impacts their early learning goals, phonic skills, and academic test performance. Significantly, prosocial behavior impacted each of these areas over and above the neighborhood and family socioeconomic status. However, there was another, rather interesting finding.

  • If a child came from a poorer neighborhood and exhibited less prosocial behavior, they also had lower levels of academic achievement. But this was not true in wealthier neighborhoods. In fact, in wealthier neighborhoods, children who exhibited less prosocial behavior still exhibited high levels of academic success.
  • Children who exhibited higher levels of prosocial behavior, however, did not differ in levels of academic success, whether they came from poorer neighborhoods or wealthier neighborhoods. This suggests that kindness and generosity (prosocial behaviors) may protect against the impact of living in neighborhoods with limited resources or educational resources and opportunities.

What does this have to do with families? The family is a training ground for kindness and generosity, for teaching prosocial skills. Your family can become a training ground for promoting prosocial skills in your children. Here are

  1. Parents can model kindness and generosity. Make kindness a hallmark of your family. Intentionally show kindness to your spouse and children. Offer to help your spouse and children, even without being asked. Also, let your children witness your kindness and generosity toward others. Speak kindly of others. Act kindly toward others. Help others. Model kindness and generosity. At least one study even suggests that a father’s prosocial behavior, specifically, increases their children’s prosocial behavior.
  2. Model kindness toward your children. Be responsive and empathetic toward your children. Children are much more likely to treat other people in ways that their parents of treated them.
  3. Provide opportunities for practicing kindness and generosity. Let your children be involved in activities of kindness as varied as setting the table for a family meal, helping to buy presents for friends or family, making cookies for a shut-in, or writing thank-you cards for gifts received…to name a few. The days are chock-full of opportunities to practice kindness and generosity. Coach your children in taking advantage of those opportunities.
  4. Notice and acknowledge when your children engage in acts of kindness. “Thank you for being helpful.” “That was kind of you to share.” Noticing and acknowledging kind behaviors in your children will increase the likelihood they will engage in more of it. After all, attention is one of the greatest parenting discipline tools we have.
  5. Take note of opportunities to talk about kindness. Acknowledge acts of kindness you see in others. Point out acts of kindness and generosity in the news. (Here is a great example from Good News Network about the exceptional kindness of a 13-year-old.) Utilize stories and movies to discuss examples of kindness in the story. You can also discuss missed opportunities for showing kindness and how a kindness might have changed the storyline. These provide excellent opportunities to teach about kindness and keep kindness in the “forefront of their mind.” 

Practicing these 5 ideas for promoting kindness in your children will not only encourage them to practice kindness, but they will also buffer your children against “emotional problems” and promote better academic success. Kinder children, fewer emotional difficulties, and greater academic success…sounds like a great outcome to me.

2-Week Family Challenge: Only Honor

An interesting study published in 2002 revealed that ruminating or venting about an offense increased feelings of anger and aggression. Distraction, on the other hand, led to decreased anger and aggression. In terms of family, rumination and venting about family frustrations will interfere with a healthy, happy family life. With this in mind, I want to suggest a 2-week family challenge that can improve your family relationships by decreasing rumination and venting. Put simply, this is a 2-week family challenge involves only honor.

First, honor your spouse, your children, and your parents in your thoughts, words, and actions. Only honor them. Say nothing negative or derogatory about any of them, either to them or about them to someone else. Instead, focus only on honoring them with words of encouragement, gratitude, and compliment. Honor them with acts of service. Honor them with thoughts of love.

Of course, differences will arise. You may feel frustration or annoyance at your family member. When you do, honor them by intentionally thinking about positive interactions you have had with them in the past. Rather than vent or ruminate on the negative, honor them by recalling how they support you, your family, and your home. Honor them by expressing admiration for the character traits you see in them and appreciate about them. Honor them with gratitude and encouragement. Honor them with an act of service. In other words, rather than focus on the frustration, focus only on honor.

If a situation arises in which you need to address a legitimate concern or a problem behavior (which will occur), find a way to address that concern with honor. This will require you to address their behavior rather than their character. It will mean honoring them enough to hold the assumption that the problem behavior is not reflective of their better character and was not engaged in maliciously. It will mean honoring them enough to listen if they offer an explanation. Addressing the problem behavior with honor means believing they will attempt to grow and change for the better. Honor them enough to address the problem behavior with the motivation of improving or restoring the relationship rather than blaming or accusing.

I call this a challenge because in our world we tend to move right to venting our anger or ruminating about the other person’s wrong. This 2-week challenge encourages you to move away from the patterns of blame and self-promotion to focus on honoring those in your family and the relationship you have with them.

If 2-weeks sounds too easy, make it a 30-day challenge. In fact, 30-days would prove even more effective. You might like the results so much that you want to extend it and make it a lifestyle, not just a temporary challenge. And, in all reality, the rewards of making this challenge a lifestyle are amazing.

2 Components of Lasting Family Memories

Family memories build health and happiness. Memories of camping, swimming, reading, singing, or playing fill in the gap of our family identities. Memories of being loved and cared for, celebrated on birthdays, witnessed in activities, or encouraged in pursuing interests contribute to individual identity as well as family identity. Perhaps that explains why we all want our family filled with positive memories of joy and love…they make for a healthier individual and family identity.

But what makes a joyful memory last for a lifetime. One memory expert suggests two key components make memories stand out. First, they need to be linked to a lot of other memories. Each memory needs to have a connection to other memories so that it becomes part of a larger network of memories. You can make this happen by:

  • Talking about activities after you have completed them. Revisit the activity in your family discussions. Talk about what each person enjoyed about the activity. Elaborate on those moments and facets of enjoyment. You’ll learn about one another and help create a lovely memory that lasts a lifetime.
  • As you enjoy that discussion, let it remind you of similar memories. For instance, discussing a trip to the zoo in which you saw a gorilla sitting under a tree may remind you of a previous trip in which the gorilla walked over to the glass or ate a banana…or the memory of a movie you watched in which a gorilla played a key role. Enjoy the new memory and the old memories as you talk.  In this way, the new activity becomes part of a larger network of similar memories.

Second, for memories to be remembered they have to “be a little bit weird,” they have to stand out as somewhat surprising. Once again, you can add to the excitement and “weirdness” of memories with a few simple ideas.

  • As you share the memories with family and friends, talk about what you liked and what surprised you about the activity. Fishing is fishing, except when you have a story about the biggest fish caught and the even bigger one that got away.
  • Share some unexpected aspect of the activity. For instance, camping becomes unusual in the midst of a storm, the epic card game played in the tent during the storm, and the awesome mud slide you enjoyed after the storm.
  • Enjoy the novelty of each experience and talk about that novelty with your family. Remember the movie when your daughter jumped because a toy rolled under her feet or the concert in which your family member saw their favorite artist for the first time.
  • Laugh about the uniqueness of your experience, whether it be the struggle, the beautiful, or the unexpected. Enjoy telling the story and enjoy reliving the bonding you experience because of the uniqueness of that activity.  

Memories are foundational to a healthy family. You can build memories that last a lifetime by sharing how that activity fits in with other memories and, at the same time, was just a “little bit different,” a “little bit weird.” Oh…and by the way…have fun making those memories. 

A Parenting Practice that Increases Children’s IQ

This parenting practice can increase your child’s IQ. I know it sounds too good to be true, but research supports the claim. A study involving over 1,600 children, followed from birth to their teenage years and raised in environments in which they faced a great deal of adversity, showed that this parenting practice contributed to raising children’s IQs by six points even in the midst of adversity. What is this miraculous practice? Nurturing and responsive parenting.

Nurturing parents create an environment that counteracts the disadvantages of early adversities and promote learning and growth.  How can a parent practice nurturing, responsive parenting? Let me share some ideas.

  • Get involved in your children’s lives. First and foremost, be available to your children and present in their daily lives. Children love to have their parents involved in their lives. A parent’s loving involvement in their child’s life creates a sense of security that frees their minds to learn and grow in healthy ways.
  • Become a student of your child. Learn about their needs and their interests. Just as important, learn how they act and respond when they’re hungry or sleepy, upset or simply distracted. The more you know about your child and their nuanced responses to life, the more you can respond to their needs in a nurturing, sensitive way.
  • Read to your child. Reading to your child has so many amazing benefits including increasing their empathy, building their imagination, providing a time for bonding, and increasing their problem-solving among many other benefits. Reading to your child also creates a nurturing environment. Pull out those books and start reading.
  • Play games with your children. You can play board games, card games, or outdoor games. Games teach many skills, like turn taking, winning and losing gracefully, negotiation skills, compromise, patience, and more. Children love to learn, and games will help them learn. You can turn daily chores like shopping or cooking into a game to teach your children math. You can play games with letters like the alphabet game while driving. Your child will be learning and not even know they are doing it.
  • Sing songs together. Singing is a great way to bond and build a sense of security in your child’s relationship to you. In addition, we learn many things through singing. We can learn how to cooperate and “harmonize” with one another (rather than sing over one another), listen and respond (like in a call and response song), basic information (the ABC’s song), how our laws get developed (Schoolhouse Rock – I’m Just a Bill ), the basics of grammar (Schoolhouse Rock, conjunction junction) and many more things. Barney, Big Bird, and Mr. Rogers knew how to make the best of music to nurture healthy children. You can too.

That’s five ways to become a nurturing parent. Although they’re surprisingly easy to implement, they have one thing in common. Each one involves investing your time in your child’s life and activities. But you’ll discover this investment is relatively simple and great fun. You will also be pleasantly surprised at the amazing benefits you will reap from this investment: a stronger bond with your children and the nurturing of their higher IQ.

Your Child’s Learning Curve on Criticism

Children learn through naturally occurring rewards and losses, natural consequences. Behaviors that bring a natural reward tend to increase while behaviors that result in a loss decrease. In other words, children learn from experience. Parents, however, can interfere with this learning in a subtle way, often without even knowing it. Fortunately, you can avoid interfering with your child’s ability to learn from experience by limiting this one behavior—criticism.

A study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology suggests that parental criticism interferes with a child’s ability to learn through the natural rewards and losses they experience every day. To say in more directly, criticizing your child will hinder their ability to learn from natural consequences.

But not all “criticism” is the same. For instance, “constructive criticism” instructs. A child who asks a parent to check their essay or offer advice on improving their tennis swing actually invites “constructive criticism” because they know it will help them grow. When given well, “constructive criticism” is given in kindness and is couched in concern for and interest in your child. “Constructive criticism” will not interfere with your children’s ability to learn. Instead, it will enhance your children’s ability to learn.

In a similar manner, “corrective criticism” can help your children learn and grow by addressing misbehavior. At its best, “corrective criticism” addresses the behavior, not the child. As a result, it does not make a judgment about the child or their character. “Corrective criticism” also places the behavior to change within the larger, more positive perspective of your child by acknowledging that the misbehavior does not define your child. It implies or even explicitly states that the misbehavior is not a reflection of their true self and their true values.

The damaging criticism referred to in this research is “corrosive criticism.” “Corrosive criticism” is often given in anger. It often demeans the child. It may involve sarcasm, humiliation, or shaming. “Corrosive criticism” hurts. Our children may incorporate the words of such criticism into their belief system and begin to feel inferior and inadequate. “Corrosive criticism” fills our children’s minds with self-contempt and guilt. It weighs on their mind and makes them doubt themselves and their interpretation of the world around them. It interferes with their ability to learn from natural consequences. (The three types of criticism taken from The Use and Abuse of Parental Criticism with Adolescents | Psychology Today.)

If you want your children to learn to the best of their ability from the natural consequences of daily living, avoid “corrosive criticism.” Do not use sarcasm, put-downs, or shaming to discipline or punish. Avoid all name-calling. Instead, learn to discipline in love with the goal of encouraging, instructing, and lifting your children up. As you do, they will learn from your healthy discipline and from the natural consequences of daily life. That’s a “double whammy” of growing maturity.

Even If Your Spouse Doesn’t Know…

A study published in 2017 asked 175 newlywed couples to keep a two-week diary recording when they acted compassionately toward their spouse—when they voluntarily cared for their spouse, when they focused on understanding and genuine acceptance of their spouse’s needs and wishes, and when they warmly expressed a willingness to put their spouse’s goals ahead of their own.

After talking with the couples, researchers found that the spouse receiving the compassionate acts only benefited from those acts when they noticed them, when they recognized them. That’s not too surprising. We lose the benefit of getting something if we don’t recognize that we have received it.

However, the person performing the compassionate act benefited whether their spouse noticed the compassionate act or not. Did you catch that? The person performing the compassionate act experienced benefits even when their spouse did not realize they had been a recipient of kindness. When we show tenderness toward our spouses, we benefit whether our spouse notices the tenderness or not. When we change our plans to accommodate our spouses, we benefit even if our spouses don’t know we did it.

These findings remind me of a verse that describes love: “Love does not seek its own.” Love seeks the good of the one loved. Ironically, when we seek the good of our spouse, the one we love, we benefit even if they don’t know what we did. So, show your spouse compassion today, even if they never recognize it:

  • Do a chore around the house without being asked. Put away the clean clothes. Unload the dishwasher. Take out the garbage. Make the bed. Maybe your spouse will notice, maybe they won’t. But you’ll receive the benefit of knowing you served your spouse in love.
  • Sacrifice your desire to watch something so you can watch what your spouse wants to watch. Leave the last piece of pie or candy for your spouse. Prepare a meal they like, even if you don’t. Skip a night out with friends to enjoy a night in with your spouse. Maybe your spouse will notice the sacrifice, maybe they won’t. But you will enjoy the benefit of a happier spouse and the joy of knowing you have expressed your love through quiet sacrifice.
  • Give your spouse a backrub, even though you’re tired. Offer to get the groceries or prepare the meal while they rest once in a while. Maybe your spouse will acknowledge the service, maybe they won’t. But you will enjoy the knowledge that you just acted in love toward your spouse.
  • Express your love in words and actions every day, even if your spouse does not notice…even if they don’t reciprocate as often. You will enjoy the benefit of living out your love in word and deed, of knowing your spouse knows you love them.

“Love does not seek its own;” it seeks the good of the one loved. Show your spouse your love through your acts of tenderness and compassion, even if they don’t realize you’re doing it. You’ll be glad you did since acting compassionately is its own reward.

“She Made Me A Better Man”

I was only in my late twenties, and he had been married over 40 years. We stood together talking in the church vestibule. His wife had died several weeks ago. His tears of grief flowed freely as he spoke of her. One sentence in particular stood out for me as he spoke: “I’m a better person because of her. She made me a better man.”

As a young, single man I appreciated his sentiment, but I really didn’t understand the depth of his comment. Now, 30-some years later with a wife of 30 years, his words bring tears of recognition to my eyes.

In a healthy marriage, our spouses help us become better people, a better version of our selves. They help us gain more knowledge and develop greater character. In fact, if both spouses are not growing as individuals in their marriage, they begin to feel as though they’re “stuck in a rut” and bored.

Marriage encourages us to grow. As “me” becomes “we” and “mine” becomes “ours,” our character develops. To truly invest in “us” and “ours” means becoming less self-centered and more humble. Rather than doing only what I want, I must learn to take pleasure in doing what my spouse wants as well. We honor our spouse by learning about their interests and, on some level, participating in those interests with them. Inevitably, my spouse and I begin to blend our interests and ideas. …and so, we grow as individuals and as a couple.

We also learn from our spouses’ unique strengths. Our thoughtful spouse teaches us to be more thoughtful. Our organized spouse teaches us to be more organized (at least a little bit). Our humorous spouse teaches us to enjoy humor more. And so, we grow as an individual and as a couple.

Interestingly, couples who report feeling more growth as individuals and as a couple also report a more passionate love, greater relationship satisfaction, and stronger commitment. Each one has learned to value the contentment of their spouse and the health of their relationship “as more important than their own.” They have learned to “not only look out for their own personal interests but also the interests of others.” They report more physical affection, greater sexual desire, and less conflict. They have learned how to better resolve conflict. They have learned how to please their spouse. In other words, they have grown as an individual and as a couple.

Here is the takeaway. Dive into your marriage. Learn about your spouse. Learn about your spouse’s interests and dreams. Become involved in those interests and dreams. And invite your spouse into your interests and dreams. As you do, you and your marriage will grow.

Develop interests as a couple. Try new things together. Enjoy quality time with one another exploring new areas. As you do, you grow. Your spouse grows. Your relationship grows. Your marriage becomes more satisfying. And one day you will say: “I’m a better person because of my spouse. They make me a better person.”

Mom’s Village & Your Child’s Cognitive Abilities

Several studies published in 2021 (reviewed in Small measures can be a big help for children of mothers with depression — ScienceDaily.) suggest the importance of a mother’s support in raising children. Specifically, these studies looked at 120 families with 9- to 10-month-old infants in Sweden and Bhutan and 100 refugee families in Turkey with children between 6- and 18-years-old. The common finding for the families in all three countries was that children’s attentiveness, social understanding, and ability to make decisions fell behind when their mothered suffered from mental health struggles like depression. That’s the bad news.

But there is good news. When a mother receives support from her partner or if she had a large family or a large social network that “rallied round and supported” her, the child’s development returned to the developmental norm. In other words, a mother’s strong, supportive “village” helps her become the best mother she can be and keeps her child on track developmentally.

Where does this strong, supportive “village” come from?

  • A supportive spouse who invests in the life of the mother and his family is part of a strong supportive village.
  • A healthy extended family is another crucial aspect of the supporting village. Extended family willing to support, assist, and help while maintaining healthy boundaries is priceless for any parent raising a child
  • Social groups like those found in religious life or an active community life rounds out a supportive village for mothers. These groups allow for regular times of meeting with other supportive people in a common phase of life or who share common interests. They allow for the development of relationships that support us in our life transitions, struggles, and celebrations. (For more ideas on building a village for your family see It Takes a Village…Yeah, But How?)

If we want strong, healthy families to support our children’s attentiveness, social understanding, and ability to make wise decisions, we need to build a village for every mother, parent, and family. If you’re a family, you can begin by reaching out to build that village today. If you are part of an extended family, strengthen your relationship with your family. If you are a church or other religious organization, intentionally work to create a supportive community for families within your community. Our families, our children…our future…depends on it.

What Spit Teaches Toddlers About a Safe Home

One of the most important skills a baby or toddler must learn is how social relationships work—who is reliable, who helps who, who can be trusted. A study from MIT identified a signal babies and toddlers use to determine if two people have a strong relationship and a commitment to help and support one another. The signal? Sharing saliva (yep…spit). They seem to observe shared saliva through activities like kissing, sharing food, or drinking from a common glass.

In this study researchers observed toddlers (16.5- to 18.5-months-old) and babies (8.5- to 10-months-old) respond to interactions between puppets and people in two different experiments. In the first experiment, the puppet shared an orange with one person and played catch (tossed a ball back and forth) with a second person. The crux of the experiment came afterward when the puppet “experienced distress.” Which person would the observing toddler look to in expectation of that person helping the distressed puppet? You guessed it. The one who shared food (an orange) with the puppet.

In the second experiment, a person placed her finger in her mouth and then into the mouth of the puppet (I know…gross). With a second puppet, the person touched her forehead and then touched the puppet’s forehead. Guess which puppet the child expected to help the person when she became distressed. The one who shared saliva by putting a finger in her mouth and the puppet’s mouth (still gross). In other words, babies and toddler seem to assume that people who share saliva by sharing food, sharing cups, kissing, or, apparently, sucking a common finger will come to one another’s assistance during times of stress. (See a video talking about the study here.)

So what? Good question. Babies and toddler thrive when they reside in an environment which they perceive as safe, an environment in which people have strong relationships and a mutual desire to help one another. Apparently, a toddler sees this sign of safety by observing the sharing of saliva among family members. Of course, that does NOT mean you have to start spitting around the house to make your child feel safe. Instead, you can help your toddler experience your home as a safe, trusting environment with some simple, innocent actions in which you might share saliva (I know it’s gross sounding but…). For instance,

  • Let them see you and your spouse share a simple kiss when one of you leaves the house and again when you reunite. (This will also strengthen your marriage.) A good night kiss for your spouse and your toddler will communicate a trusting relationship with both.
  • Sharing simple foods like orange pieces or ice cream with family members will communicate a strong relationship to your toddler as well. And a strong relationship among family members translates into an increased sense of safety. Plus, sharing will increase overall family trust.
  • Lick the bowl together after making cookies or icing. Your baby may even lick the treat right off your own finger…which you probably used to put icing in your mouth as well. (I know, it’s gross, but we’ve all done it…and it actually increases your toddler’s sense of safety and trust!)

Overall, sharing food, drinks, and kisses does more than potentially share saliva, doesn’t it? It represents a trust in the person with whom you share. Your toddler will pick up on that trust…and that will increase their sense of safety in your home. I have to say it (gross as it is): Give your child a sense of security in your home, share some saliva.

Help Calm Your Stressed Child

When our children get upset, we often encourage them to “slow down” and “take a breath.” Intuitively, we know that “taking a breath” can help our children calm down, sooth themselves, just like it does for us. An experiment conducted by Jelena Obradovic, director of the Stanford SPARK Lab, revealed that teaching children to breathe deeply in an everyday setting, like a children’s museum, a public playground, or a full-day summer camp, effectively reduce their stress. One important feature of this study was the 1-minute-18-second video used to guide the children through four calming breathes and so teach them to use breathing to manage their stress.

I share this information and the teaching video with you because we want our children to learn how to effectively manage their stress and frustration. Learning to breathe deeply by “smelling a flower” before “blowing out a candle” will help. It will be a great help when your child is stressed over some upcoming situation or following some situation like:

  • preparing to get a vaccine
  • getting ready for a performance
  • getting ready for school
  • after having an argument with a friend
  • experiencing anxiety about a test or tryout or game.

In fact, learning to breathe deeply can help our children manage stress anytime it arises. I don’t know about you, but helping my children manage their stress reduces my stress as well. So, I’m going to take a breath and relax while teaching my children to breathe deeply to manage stress as well.

« Older Entries