Archive for Author John Salmon

Are You a Manipulative Parent?

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

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

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

The Benefit of Eyes Wide Open

Those who know me well know I can go through the day with my eyes wide shut. I get so caught up in my own thoughts that I never see the world around me. Case in point: my friend once had to point out that a restaurant we frequented had painted their walls burgundy, covering the wall’s previous pastel green color. The food was good either way.

I don’t really mind being oblivious to colors, but I’ve had to learn to keep my eyes wide open when it comes to seeing opportunities for kindness. After all, wall color has little impact on my life. But kindness…. Kindness has the power to increase the physical and emotional well-being of both the giver and the receiver. Kindness holds the power to create greater intimacy with others.  Kindness strengthens relationships and opens the door of happiness in the lives of those around the one sharing kindness. Kindness is a viral warrior that requires me to keep my eyes wide open. How can you and I learn to keep my eyes wide open so I can see and recognize opportunities for kindness? Here are 3 steps to help.

  1. At the start of every day, bring kindness to mind. Get curious about kindness. Ask yourself, “I wonder what opportunities will come my way to show kindness today?” If you struggle to remember to ask this question of yourself, set a reminder on your phone.
  2. Bring kindness to the forefront of your mind throughout the day. In fact, remind yourself five times a day of your goal to see opportunities to share kindness and to act upon those opportunities as they arise. Remind yourself of kindness once at mid-morning, once at lunch, once in mid-afternoon, once at supper time, and once in the evening. Make kindness a common thought, a thought you keep in the forefront of your mind. Once again, if you struggle to bring kindness to mind, set a reminder on your phone.
  3. Before bed complete a kindness inventory. Think back through your day and write down times you showed kindness to others through your words or actions. Then consider if there were any times that you missed the opportunity to share kindness throughout the day—perhaps you missed an opportunity to share a kind word with a cashier, to hold a door open for someone, to let another driver merge in front of you. Write down these missed opportunities as well. Consider what prevented you from showing kindness. Were you rushed or tired? mindless? angry? Then, imagine what you could have done differently to show kindness at that moment.

Engage in these three practices every day for the next thirty days. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised at the results. In fact, I think you will grow in your ability to love. You could even engage in these three practices as a family and watch how growing kindness nurtures a healthier, happier family.

A New Year’s Resolution for Parents

Little girl baking christmas cookies

The new year is just around the corner and many of us are contemplating a “New Year’s Resolution” for the coming year. As parents, we might consider what kind of resolution could help us become better parents. To help us decide on a good parenting resolution, I recommend a “2-week parenting audit” to help you think of possible resolutions around parenting. Don’t worry, it’s not hard or guilt inducing. It simply helps us identify areas in which we can grow. This “audit” consists of listening to yourself as you talk to your child and counting 3 things.

  1. Listen to yourself and count how many times you say “no” compared to how many times you say “Yes.” Don’t get me wrong. “No” is an important word for a parent. “No” sets limits for our children’s health and safety. But “no” can also interfere with our children’s creativity and appropriate exploration. Learn to say “yes” as often as you can. When possible, find a way to modify a “no” into a “yes”.  Instead of “no, you can’t have a snack right now,” say “yes, after dinner you can. I don’t want you to ruin your appetite with one before dinner though.”  Learning to say “yes” can help a parent think about the “true reason” for having the rule or limit. Knowing the “true reason” for a rule can also help a parent identify a “yes” alternative that still satisfies the rule. Children will learn the “spirit” of the rule or limit when a parent learns to effectively balance “no’s” with “yes’s.”
  2. Listen to yourself and count how many times your correct negative behavior compared to how many times you acknowledge positive behavior. It’s easy to find ourselves constantly correcting our children.  Unfortunately, a constant focus on correction blinds us to the times our children engage in positive behaviors. Our children will also become discouraged believing they “never do anything right.” We need to make it a practice to look for the positive behaviors in which our children engage and to verbally acknowledge those behaviors. If we make this a daily habit, our children will surprise us with even more positive behaviors. We will also discover the “need” to correct negative behavior decreases as positive behaviors increase.
  3. Listen to yourself and count how many times you offer your child a directive compared to how many times you offer an opportunity to connect. Yes, a lot of tasks need to be completed around the house and our children often need prompts to help them remember to do their part. But when directives outweigh connection, you have a recipe for rebellion. Sometimes a directive can even be couched in an opportunity to connect. For example, “Please help me cook dinner tonight. We can talk while we cook.” Or “The living room is a mess. Help me clean it up so we have more time to do something fun together.”

After you have counted and looked at each of these comparisons, make your New Year’s Resolution. Do you need to say “yes” more often? Do you need to acknowledge positive behaviors more often? Do you want to speak words of connection more often? Or, if you’re like me, you may want to improve in all three areas. Each one will help build a more intimate relationship with your child while teaching them important life skills. I have to ask: which one will you work on next year?

Scrooge or Cratchit Revolution This Christmas

The “Christmas Spirit” seems to have faded some. I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong. But it seems like more people have a “Bah-humbug-get-to-work-and-stop-wasting-time-on-frivilous-celebrations” view of Christmas, or a “give-me-give-me” view of Christmas than an “excited-generous-grateful-and-celebratory” view of Christmas. In other words, I encounter more Scrooges than Cratchits. Worse, I feel the pressure of society pushing me toward a “Scrooge” outlook of Christmas and away from the generous outlook Cratchit. We have drifted from celebrating Christmas as the birth of a Savior to worshipping the idol of materialism and wealth. We have turned our focus from the gift of God, a “Son given to us,” and focused on material gain and greed instead. But I’m not going to give in to the Scrooge spirit of Christmas. I’m going to celebrate Christmas as a revolution flowing out of the gift of God received on that first Christmas day, a generous gift of mercy and grace. Will you join me? Here’s how we can do it.

First, remember the first Christmas occurred because “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16) to save us from death and sin, to provide us with an abundant and eternal life. And His only begotten Son, whose birth we celebrate on Christmas, loved us so much that He gave Himself to fill us with joy and make us whole and without fault (Ephesians 5:25-27). I’m going to follow suit. I’m going to give myself—not just my time, my energy, or my tolerance, but my whole self—to family, friends, and even strangers. Giving of ourselves begins a revolution in the midst of the self-seeking and self-promoting world in which we live.

Second, I’m going to “join” with other people just like the Christ whose birth we celebrate on Christmas did for us. He joined us by emptying Himself to be born of a woman, raised as a child, and live as a man. He became Emmanuel, God with us, on a whole new level. I’m going to join Him by joining with other people, accepting them “where they are” and “who they are.” In joining with others, I will look to discover the image of the Creator in each person and, rather than “call out” aspects I disagree with, I will nurture the image of our Creator in their lives. Revolutionary, isn’t it? To accept the complexity of people, look for the image of our Creator within them, and nurture that image?

Third, I will serve others in love. Perhaps the best way to give myself to others and manifest an acceptance of them, is to serve them in love. And I will be following the example of the Baby born on that first Christmas day.  He not only came to earth as a Man but as a servant of mankind. He said He came to serve and not be served. Part of the Christmas revolution will be to do the same—to serve my neighbor in love. 

That’s the battle plan of the Christmas revolution: give ourselves to one another and join with one another in radical acceptance that manifests in serving one another in love. I’m going to start practicing with my family and extend it out to friends and neighbors. This plan will align us with Bob Cratchit, and his son Tiny Tim, in the “excited-grateful-generous-and-celebratory” view of Christmas. And it will put us squarely in the midst of a joyous Christmas Revolution against the Scrooges of the world.

What A Slap to the Face

“Don’t be stupid.” “You’re an idiot.” “You are a lazy bum.” Ouch, what a slap to the face. Three of them in fact. Just reading an insult hurts a little, doesn’t it? Each one is like a “mini slap to the face “… literally. At least that is what Dr. Struiksma, the lead author of a study published in Frontiers in Communication, reports. She and her colleagues had 29 females read a series of statements that were either insulting, complimenting, or neutral. Half the statements used the participant’s name while the other half used someone else’s name. The participants’ responses were measured using EEG’s and skin conductance measures.

Even in this lab setting, with no real human interactions and with statements coming from fictitious people, insults “got under the skin” of the participants.  Each insult elicited an early effect in the brain; and it did so every time a participant heard it…. even if it did not include their name.  EEG readings from this study suggest that an insult immediately “grabs the listener’s attention” as they attempted to assess the insult and its meaning in the current context, just like a “mini slap to the face” grabs our attention and shocks us emotionally & physically.

I don’t know about you, but I find it very disturbing to even imagine someone slapping another person in the face, let alone slapping a family member in the face. Yet we live in a society where one person will insult another person at the drop of a hat, without even a thought. Don’t believe me? Recall the elections and political debates or skim through some Twitter and Facebook posts. Read them sparingly though. After all, in the study described above. even an insult given to someone else was like a “mini slap to the face.” Perhaps that is why so many political ads remain bothersome to us. Each one, each insult, becomes a “mini slap to the face” for the candidate and for each of us who hears or reads the insult. One can only tolerate so many “mini slaps to the face.” 

This insult as a “mini slap to the face” can also hit close to home, can’t it? Too many family arguments elicit an insult. But I don’t want to become the source of a “mini slap to the face” of my spouse or my children or my parents. Do you? Let’s not give our family a “mini slap in the face.” Let’s commit to NOT insulting anyone in our family (or outside our family for that matter). Instead, we can act on Fred’s determination regarding the opportunity to insult his Uncle Scrooge: “his offenses carry their own punishment and I’ll have nothing to say against him.” Rather than getting caught in a cycle of insults, let’s determine to offer gratitude, compliments, or even constructive criticisms instead. I’m making that commitment. Will you join me?

Christmas is Messy

Christmas is messy. I don’t mean the wrapping paper littering the floor around the room or the Christmas dinner scraps lying under the table. Those are definitely messy, but Christmas is messy on a much deeper level also. It’s messy on a relational and emotional level. It’s not really surprising that Christmas is messy because families celebrate Christmas and families are messy. I’ve met all kinds of wonderful people who live in very messy families. I’m sure you have too. The fact of the matter is, we all live in messy families of some sort. As a result, Christmas can be very messy. 

The first Christmas was messy too. Think about it. A young girl claims to be a virgin while clearly pregnant. Her betrothed, who had the legal right to divorce her, accepts her and her pregnancy while claiming the child is not his. The family of both probably struggled to understand. A government demands that each family of a conquered nation return to the place of their family of origin for a census. A city so crowded and inhospitable that no spare room could be found for a woman on the verge of giving birth to a child. A pregnant woman giving birth to her firstborn Son in a place set aside for the sheltering of animals…and then swaddling the newborn Child before laying Him in a feeding trough. There they rested, a Child and his parents, in the midst of the smell and chatter of animals, the constant hum of an overcrowded city just outside the door, and the heavy hearts of being misunderstood and cast out. It was a messy time. 

And yet, out of this first messy Christmas came celebration. An angel choir sang an anthem of “peace on earth good will to men” to an audience of shepherds. After hearing the message of the angelic choir, the shepherds came to worship and adore the newborn Child. When they left the Child, they made proclamations of excitement and hope to all they met.

This first messy Christmas also left obedient people misunderstood and alienated by the assumptions of those around them. But it also opened the door for those who had eyes to see to catch a glimpse of the Truth. An old man and an old woman in the temple saw the greeted the Child 8 days after His birth and saw the truth of hope, redemption, and salvation. They joyfully announced the truth they saw in the Child, the heavenly purpose of His life.

We know today that this first messy Christmas was only the beginning of a new life for you and me, a new life in an eternal family in which all the messiness will be done away and we will experience only love and trust and peace.

Sometimes I mourn as I reflect on the messiness of family life. I lament over the pain we experience amidst the messiness of families battered by misunderstandings, suffering the consequences of poor choices, and living in the pain of lost love. But, on Christmas day, as I look at the mess left around the Christmas tree and reflect on the fallout of the broken relationships I see in many families, I see a spark of Hope rise up. As I contemplate the messy vision of a newborn Child lying in a manger between two poor, exhausted parents in the midst of noisy animals permeated by the aroma of a barnyard, I trust in the birth of Hope. I smile, knowing that the birth of Jesus is just the beginning of a Life that will lead to the end of all the messiness of sin. The birth we celebrate on Christmas Day is the start of a beautiful, eternal family of intimate celebration with the Father of All. Merry Christmas.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland with Family

Winter has arrived. We’ve even had our first snow of the year. With the onset of cold weather, many people have turned up the heat, grabbed a book, and snuggled up on the couch with a soft blanket for the winter. Truly, a little hygge is always nice. However, I want to suggest another winter activity as well. This activity has a surprising benefit according to a study involving 87 women with an average age of 24 years. In fact, engaging in this activity for 40 minutes lead to a greater appreciation of one’s body, a better body image. Think of it, an improved body image after a simple 40-minute activity. “What is the activity?” you ask. A simple 40-minute walk in a snow-covered woodland area. A walk through the snow-covered nature… that’s all it took.

The senior author of the study reported that “natural environments help to restrict negative appearance-related thoughts and shift attention away from an aesthetic view of the body and toward greater appreciation of the body’s functionality.”

Body image is one of the struggles our teens have to resolve. In fact, many of us continue to struggle with body image throughout our adult life. Taking a walk through a snow-covered park or snow-covered woodland area is a simple way to work on a more positive body image through the winter months.

To really reap the benefits of this study for your family, you need to consider another interesting finding of the study. Specifically, those who tested high in self-compassion prior to their walk in the snow had larger improvements in body appreciation than those who tested lower in self-compassion. With that in mind, you can nurture self-compassion in your children. How?

  • Teach them an emotional vocabulary. Help them learn a large vocabulary for labeling their emotions. Help them to label the emotions they see in others as well. Teach them to look beyond simple behavior in others to see the emotions and intents behind the behavior.
  • Discipline your child’s behavior rather than labeling their character. This will involve planning ahead to avoid some behavioral issues. It will also involve teaching them how to behave differently in the future rather than simply punishing negative behaviors as they arise.
  • Model self-compassion in your own life. Rather than beat yourself up for mistakes or shortcomings, model self-compassion. Rather than modeling self-criticism, model self-compassion. This may take practice, but it will benefit you and your children in numerous ways.

You’ve set up an environment that nurtures self-compassion. Now grab your family, bundle up, and go for a walk in the snow. For the more active families, go sled-riding or skating. Have a snowball battle. Build a snowman. Whatever your style, get outside this winter. You’ll feel better about your body and so will your teen. In all honesty, you’ll just feel better all the way around.

Your Child’s Executive Functioning Needs to Go On a Diet

If you want your infant to develop healthy executive functioning (things like healthy working memory, planning abilities, organizing abilities, and behavioral inhibition) as they mature, you may want to put their executive functioning on a diet, a healthy diet. A study utilizing the data of 294 families involved in the STRONG Kids2 birth cohort study found the diet of 18-to 24-month-old infants correlated with their executive functioning. In this study, infants who ate more sugary snacks and processed foods were more likely to have problems with emotional control, behavioral inhibition, and planning and organizing—all components of executive functioning. That may not seem like a big deal for 2-year-olds. After all, “Kids will be kids.” But previous research suggests that children who had a higher consumption of sugary, processed foods also scored lower on academic tests than those who ate a healthy diet.  And another study found that a healthy diet was associated with better executive functioning than a diet high in snack foods in both children and adolescents.

What’s the takeaway for our families? If we want our children to develop optimal executive functioning skills in the present and in the future–if we want our children to exhibit their greatest abilities to plan, organize, inhibit unwanted behaviors, and effectively manage emotions–put away the donuts, chips, and cookies. Have healthy snacks and drinks on hand instead. Keep a fresh supply of fruits, nuts, and water for your children to snack on. You’ll be nurturing better executive functioning which, in the long run, means greater academic success and healthier social relationships. Go ahead…have a snack…there’s apples in the fridge.

Reach Out For a More Intimate Family

Have you ever thought about sending an old friend a text or giving them a call but then decided not to? You may have thought of many reasons to not reach out to them: “They’re probably busy.” “They won’t remember me, anyway.” “Maybe tomorrow.” I know I’ve done it. But a study published by the American Psychological Association changed my mind about the excuses…and maybe it will change your mind as well.

This study included a series of experiments involving over 5,900 participants. The objective was to explore how accurately people estimate another person’s appreciation of an attempt to connect. In one experiment, the participants reached out by email, text, or phone “just because.” In another experiment, participants sent a note or a note and a gift to someone they had not seen in a while. In all the experiments, participants estimated how much the person they reached out to would feel appreciated, grateful, thankful, or pleased by the contact. Then, the recipients were asked to rate how much they actually did feel appreciated, grateful, thankful, or pleased by the contact.

The results suggested that those who initiated the contact consistently underestimated the positive impact their actions would have on the one they reached out to. In other words, the person reached out to felt more appreciated, grateful, thankful, or pleased than the initiator predicted. A couple things come to mind in response to these results.

  1. A simple text or note to your spouse, child, or parent, no matter how busy they are, will likely be more appreciated than you imagine. In fact, it will probably increase their awareness of how much you care for them. Let them know how much you love them. Reach out to them.
  2. If you’re missing an “old friend” with whom you lost touch, reach out to them. They will likely appreciate it much more than you imagine.

My fears hold me back from reaching out. Sometimes I disguise my fears as concern for the other person’s busy schedule or their “not wanting to be bothered.” But to be completely honest, it’s my fear that holds me back. This research suggests I’ve been fearful about the wrong thing all these years. I’ve decided to reach out more randomly to my spouse and my children (who have moved away from home). I may even reach out to a few old friends. So, if you’re reading this and you haven’t heard from me in a while, don’t be surprised if you get a random text…unless I get one from you first.

The “Marshmallow Test” & Parenting…A New Twist

I never knew we could learn so much about raising children from a simple marshmallow. But, the classic “marshmallow test” suggested that children with greater self-control also experienced greater health and success as adults. In response we wondered: “How can we nurture self-control in our children?”

A twist on the “marshmallow study” showed that children exhibit more self-control when the adults around them followed through on their promises. In other words, when children see their parents as reliable, they practice better self-control. Reliable parents, parents who follow through on promises, nurture self-control in children.

Now, a third twist on the “marshmallow test” gives us another parenting hint. This study tested the ability of children from Japan and the United States to delay gratification for either food (a marshmallow) or a wrapped gift among children in Japan and children in the United States. The researchers hoped to discover how culture might influence self-control. Interestingly, children in Japan waited significantly longer for food (about 15 minutes) than did the U.S. children (less than a 4-minute wait); but the U.S. children waited longer before opening a gift (almost 15 minutes) than did the Japanese children (less than 5 minutes). These differences may reflect cultural training differences. Specifically, waiting to eat is emphasized more in Japan than in the U.S. and waiting to open gifts is emphasized more in the U.S. than in Japan. In other words, culturally specific habits impact delayed gratification and self-control in children.

What does this mean for our families? Families can nurture self-control in their children by…wait for it…wait…yes…building a family environment that is comfortable with waiting, even encourages waiting. You can do this by identifying opportunities to politely and appropriately allow your children (and you) to wait. In doing so, we will develop a culture (a home environment) that emphasizes habits nurturing delayed gratification and impulse control. Life is filled with opportunities to nurture the ability to wait, the ability to strengthen self-control. Here are some examples:

  • Wait until everyone sits down at the table and the family has prayed before eating the food on the table.
  • Wait your turn to open your presents. Or wait until everyone is present before opening your presents.
  • Play games that involve taking turns so each person has to wait his or her turn.
  • When you want to watch a show with your family but two people want to watch a different show, pick one and let the other show wait for another time. Make sure it’s not always the same person who has to wait.
  • Wait for dessert until the table is cleared and kitchen cleaned up.
  • Teach children how to wait by occupying themselves with another activity. Engage your child in calm waiting activities. Prepare ahead for activities you know will involve waiting, like going to a doctor’s office.
  • Save the favorite activity for the second half of the day…and enjoy the wait.

You get the idea. One other caveat, avoid pulling out your cellphone while you wait and just let your mind wander. You’ll find it rather enjoyable. Now get out there and…wait for it…wait…. enjoy strengthening self-control in your family.

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