Six Weeks to Change Your Child

You can change your children’s lives and your family environment in just six weeks. Yes…six weeks! A study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology showed how this change occurred in an urban school setting and I think it can work in families as well.

In this study, 152 students in an urban school participated in lessons and activities about the science of gratitude (click here for some ideas). They also shared gratitude with their classmates and teachers through an app provide in the study. Another group of 82 students were only given the app with no lessons on the science of gratitude. A third group of 175 students did not receive the gratitude lessons or the app.  

After six weeks, the students who participated in the lessons and used the app gave thanks “more often, more intensely, and to more people” than the other groups. They also:

  • reported a stronger sense of gratitude,
  • reported an increase in positive emotions,
  • reported a decrease in anxiety and other negative emotions,
  • reported greater satisfaction with their friendships, and
  • reported greater satisfaction with their overall lives.

Six weeks was all it took to improve these students social and emotional well-being! I believe we can have the same results in our families if we commit to a simple six-week program of gratitude.

First, teach our children about the science of gratitude. Read about the impact of gratitude and share what you learn with your children while you sit down to a meal or drive to soccer practice. In other words, teach your children about the science of gratitude during the everyday activities of life. Here are 5 lessons in gratitude from science and the 13 most gratitude activities and exercises to help you get started.

Second, model gratitude. Children always learn from our actions. Let them see you express gratitude to your spouse, other relatives, friends, and coworkers. Let your children experience you expressing gratitude to them.

Third, set a goal to express gratitude to at least one family member every day. You could do this through text or face to face. Or, you might put an envelope for each family member in a common area of the house. Encourage each family member to write a note of encouragement or gratitude for at least one family member each day and secretly put it in their envelope.

Fourth, gather every evening (at supper or before bed) to review the day and identify things for which you are grateful. Write you words and statements of gratitude on a piece of paper. If you shape the paper as leaves, you can tape them onto a wall to make a gratitude tree. If you make the papers two inches by eight inches you can tape them into loops and put the loops together to make a gratitude chain. Or you can simply write them on a piece of paper as a journal. Whatever you choose, record your family gratitude and display it for your family to see.

Keep it up for six weeks. A month and a half, that’s all. Then pay attention to any changes you notice in your family and children. You may find yourself so pleased you want to keep it all going for another six weeks. After all, gratitude will help your family thrive.

Get the Happiness of One Week’s Extra Salary

Imagine the happiness of receiving a bonus equal to one week’s salary. You can give your family that same amount of happiness just by doing this one thing together. A study involving 70,000 participants over a 2-year period confirmed that volunteering increases happiness. Specifically, people who volunteer are more satisfied with their lives. They also rated their overall health as better. And the more time a person spent volunteering, the greater their life satisfaction and perception of health.

This study also showed that anyone who starts to volunteer became happier over time. This held true whether the volunteers were happy or not when they began volunteering. In fact, volunteers experienced about the same increase in happiness that a person feels when receiving an extra week’s pay!

I’d love to let my family experience that kind of increase in happiness. Wouldn’t you? Good news. You can make it happen. Simply gather the family. Talk about places where your family can volunteer. Choose one and start volunteering. Give it away for family fun. Then, get ready for an increase in happiness that your whole family will enjoy.

Diet, Fitness, & Sleep…Oh My!

You can promote your family’s happiness, well-being, and even their flourishing by building a healthy family environment. It sounds too simple…too good to be true, I know. But a survey study from the University of Otago in New Zealand confirms it. In this study, researchers collected data on the sleep habits, exercise habits, and dietary habits of 1,111 young adults. They found sleep quality to be the most important health behavior predicting mental health and well-being—more than sleep quantity, exercise, and diet. That’s not to say these other factors aren’t important. They are. For instance, sleep quantity impacted depressive symptoms and well-being. Interestingly, too little sleep (under 8 hours) AND too much sleep (over 18 hours) contributed to an increase in depressive symptoms and a decrease in well-being for young adults. That middle ground, 8-9.7 hours of sleep, seemed to be the sweet spot in giving the best results for mood and well-being. (For more on sleep and creating an environment to promote quality sleep, read Your Teen & the Importance of Sleep and The Enemy of Teen Sleep. The information can apply to all ages.)

Physical activity also had an impact on depressive symptoms and well-being (although not as significant an impact as sleep quality). In fact, previous studies have shown that even an hour of physical activity improves mood!

Finally, eating raw fruits and vegetables impacted mood and well-being. Once again, we have to aim for the sweet spot in fruit and vegetable consumption. Less than 2 servings OR more than 8 servings lowered well-being (but not depressive symptoms). The sweet spot for improving well-being through the consumption of raw fruits and vegetables fell at 4.8 servings a day. (Another study suggested 8 servings had the greatest impact.)

So, if you want your family to experience less depression and a greater sense of well-being, get a good night’s sleep, engage in some daily physical activity, and eat your vegetables and fruits. It is well worth it to see your children in a positive mood and feeling good.

Your Actions…Your Marriage

Your actions impact your marriage. No surprise there, right? It’s like hearing wisdom from Captain Obvious. But let’s look a little closer at two kinds of actions.

Some actions express power. Your spouse may perceive these actions as a threat to their shared control, power, or status. As a result, these actions will increase your spouse’s anxiety. Such actions include accusations, blame, contempt, or angry withdrawal. They can also include stating requests in a harsh, demanding manner or expressing your disappointments in an accusatory manner. In response to these perceived threats, your spouse will likely respond with emotionally protective behavior like defensiveness, counterattacks, or withdrawal. A vicious cycle is started.

Other actions are perceived as expressing vulnerability. These behaviors include, among others, expressing remorse, sharing empathy, expressing personal need, and accepting personal responsibility for misunderstandings or mistakes. Interestingly, when your spouse perceives a decrease in actions expressing vulnerability, they may feel emotionally neglected. Emotional neglect results in feeling threatened…and that may lead to increased anger, blame, or withdrawal as noted above. The cycle begins and goes on…and on…and on…unless we stop it.

How can we stop this cycle? Decrease behaviors that express power and increase behaviors that express vulnerability. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But it is easier said than done. It initially feels safer to use powers that express power. But the long-term consequences of expressing power to maintain a sense of safety results in separation, pain, and the death of intimacy.

On the other hand, it’s frightening to become vulnerable. Vulnerability is scary. It makes us feel…well, vulnerable, exposed, at risk of hurt. But expressing vulnerability leads to deeper intimacy and greater satisfaction in marriages. How do we increase vulnerability and decrease power?

  • Share emotions with your spouse. Talk about your fears and your sorrows as well as your joys and dreams. Weep with your spouse and rejoice with your spouse. After all, the number one goal in most marital arguments is about emotional connection. Start connecting now.
  • Show empathy for your spouse’s concerns and fears.
  • When you have a concern, express it in kindness.
  • Accept responsibility for your actions and behaviors. When you say something hurtful, apologize. When you say something your spouse misunderstands, respond with a more careful explanation rather than anger and sarcasm.
  • Offer forgiveness when your spouse does something hurtful.  
  • Share your personal needs with your spouse and allow them to help meet those needs.

Yes, actions have consequences even in marriage. Decrease actions that express power in the relationship and increase actions that communicate vulnerability before your spouse. You might be pleasantly surprised with the increased intimacy and love.

A New Year…A New Opportunity

It is a new year and a new opportunity to fill your family with honor, grace, and celebration.

We honor what we value so honor your family. Fill your home with honor by sharing words and actions that express value and love to each family member. Honor fills our homes when our actions reveal how much we value and appreciation each family member. Acts of kindness and service honor by communicating the “full extent of our love.”  Words that acknowledge strengths and effort, words that express gratitude, and words that communicate admiration express honor to all who hear them. These words of honor pour a sense of value and worth into our family members.

A home filled with grace becomes a safe haven, a place where each person knows they will find acceptance with no strings attached. Grace apologizes for wrongs committed and forgives generously. Grace disciplines in love, teaching us to live a healthy life emotionally, physically, and mentally.  Grace reveals love in the sacrifice of “my” desires to meet the needs of my family. Grace keeps us available, attentive, and emotionally connected to one another.

A home filled with celebration flows out of a home filled with honor and grace. When honor and grace undergird our interactions, we can “let our hair down,” reveal ourselves fully, and know one another intimately. We can laugh freely and play with abandon. Overall, celebration fosters an abundant life, refreshes our perspective of others, and restores intimacy. Filling our family with celebration intimacy and culminates in a renewed vitality for life.

Take the opportunity provided by a new year to fill your home with honor, grace, and celebration. You can find many ideas for sharing honor, grace, & celebration under the Family Bank of Honor. You will love it and your family will love it…for years to come.

Is Your Marriage Under Siege

Is your marriage under siege? Has an invisible enemy cut off the essential emotional and relational supplies that give life to your marriage? Maybe your own actions have unknowingly put your marriage under siege. It’s easy to do. Whether under siege from within or without, you need to recognize the siege artillery used to sap your marriage of the loving nutrients and sustenance it needs to survive. Then you can respond and overcome the siege to build a healthy marriage. Here are four strategies the enemy of marriage uses to set siege on your marriage…so you can address & defeat them!

  • TV, phones, and other screens. If you find yourself sitting in the same room with your spouse in silence as you both scroll through social media apps, your marriage is under siege. If you watch TV more than you interact with your spouse, your marriage is under siege. Excessive screen time will sap your marriage of the necessary interactions and emotional connection you need to build a healthy marriage.

Turn off the TV. Put down the phone and forget about social media for a while. Look your spouse in the eye and talk about your day, your dreams, your life. Converse with one another. Dream together. Doing so will nurture the emotional connection every marriage needs to survive.

  • Defensiveness. If you find you and your spouse caught in a cycle of blame and defensiveness every time something goes awry, your marriage is under siege. We reap what we sow, even in marital disagreements. Blame and defensiveness prevent growth. They create an environment in which both parties deny responsibility and so become powerless to change, powerless to strengthen their marriage. Instead, blame and defensiveness poison marriages with anger and resentment, slowly draining it of health.

Stop blaming. Look at yourself. Take the log out of your own eye. As you do, your spouse is more likely to do the same. Your marriage will grow as both people take responsibility for their contribution to the problem and so take hold of the power to change themselves as individuals within the marriage.

  • The primacy of “my.” When one or both people in a marriage focus on “my wants,” “my way,” “my desires,” “my,” “my,” “my…” your marriage is under the siege of pride and selfishness. It will soon die of starvation for real connection and mutual regard for one another’s needs.

Take a step back. Remember what you love about your spouse. Recall what you did when love was young and do it again. Show kindness. Give preference to your spouse’s wants and wishes. Serve them. Seek to please them. Your marital joy will be nurtured. And your relationship will grow stronger as a result.

  • Unrealistic expectations. Many people enter marriage with unrealistic expectations. We learn unrealistic expectations from family and TV. Unrealistic expectations may include things like “my spouse completes me” or “we will live happily ever after—all the time” or “we should want to spend all our free time together” or “my spouse will change to be everything I want and need.” Unrealistic expectations will drain your marriage of joy and build walls of resentment.

Face the truth. You and your spouse are two different people, each with your own faults, shortcomings, and eccentricities. You will make one another angry at times. You will feel lonely at times, even though you’re married. Accept these truths. And accept your spouse for who they are, shortcomings and all. Focus on those aspects you love about your spouse and celebrate those strengths. And intentionally work to grow as a person your spouse can love more.

Religion & Your Child’s Mental Health

Perhaps a good New Year’s resolution for your family would include religion. Why? Because raising kids with religion or spirituality may protect their mental health. I’m sure that sounds controversial and naïve to some, but a study published in 2018 suggests it to be true. This study looked at the data of 5,000 people who participated in a long-term study. It looked specifically at children’s religious involvement from pre-teen years into their twenties. Those who attended religious services at least one time a week with their families when they were children and teens were about 18% more likely to report being happier, 30% more likely to do volunteer work, and 33% less likely to use drugs in their 20’s. In addition, those who prayed or meditated every day reported more life satisfaction, exhibited a better ability to process emotions, and were more forgiving than those who never prayed.

Another study, published in 2019, reviewed 32 studies and found that religious training and involvement was associated with less anxiety in general. Religious training and involvement were associated with less anxiety in relation to various diseases and across different cultures and countries as well.

These are just two studies that suggest a positive impact of religious involvement on mental health. Why does religious involvement have this impact? Perhaps the recognition of “something bigger than ourselves” helps reduce stress and anxiety as does the social support inherent in most religious communities. In addition, there is the impact of a Benevolent Higher Power generously caring and providing for us. With all this in mind, could your family enjoy a potential decrease in anxiety? Then a good New Year’s resolution for your family might include involvement in a religious community. Happy New Year.  

Powerful Combinations of 3 Little Letters for Parents

When it comes to parenting, some of the most powerful interventions appear small and insignificant. For instance, the simple, small act of  saying “thank you” to our children on a consistent basis has a powerful impact on their self-image and their behavior. Another small but powerful intervention involves the arrangement of three little letters combined into a single word.

Consider the power of three little letters arranged to spell the word “AND.” “AND” helps a child learn they can be angry AND remain polite. They can understand that they don’t enjoy doing chores AND they can still do them, even getting them done well. Or, more importantly, they can come to appreciate that you, their parent, discipline them AND you love them more than words can say. You can even be upset with them AND remain present, available, and consistent.

“AND” is good for our parenting philosophy as well. It informs us that we have a great child AND they misbehave at times, even making mistakes that require correction. We can feel bad disciplining our child AND know we discipline them because we love them and want the best for them.  We can hurt for our child when they experience the consequences of poor choices AND let them experience those consequences and learn from them.

We find another powerful combination of three little letters in the word “YET.” “Yet” carries the power of hope and the potential for change. It communicates faith in our child’s ability to learn and grow. Think about it. I can’t ride a bike…YET. I can’t stand up in front of my classmates to give a speech…YET. I can’t cook…YET. I can’t drive a car…YET. “YET” transforms each of these temporary limitations into a hope, an anticipation of future success.

“YET” does the same for parents. I can’t get my children into a good bedtime routine…YET.  I can’t stay calm when my children scream…YET. I can’t stand another week of on-line school…YET.  Each “YET” reveals an expectation that I can learn and grow as a parent. Each “YET” communicates that I am not the parent I want to be…YET, but here is still hope. I can learn and grow. I can become a better parent…YET.

Three little letters combined into a single word with the power to transform, communicate acceptance, offer hope, and anticipate growth. Use them wisely.

Join the Christmas Rebellion This Year

The family celebration of Christmas has always been a bit rebellious. But, given the events of this year, celebrating Christmas with your family is even more rebellious than usual. Successfully engaging in this Christmas rebellion requires the proper handling of 3 Christmas weapons. Learning to use these Christmas weapons effectively begins in our families.

The first weapon of Christmas is peace. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus who came to bring “peace on earth.” Teaching our families to pursue peace is countercultural today. No, pursuing peace is rebellious in our world of confusion, agitation, & conflict.

  • Pursuing peace involves doing the work to resolve differences with one another in a loving, just manner. This ability starts in the family and is practiced among family members. You can better resolve differences and conflict with the Ten Commandments for Effective Conflict.
  • Pursuing peace involves seeking the good of each family member rather than simply looking out for your individual wants and desires.
  • Pursuing peace means apologizing for wrongs done to one another as well as keeping a short account of wrongs done by others. Once again, family offers us a training ground where we learn to do this well.  

The second weapon of Christmas is joy. The angels told the shepherds they were bringing them “good news of GREAT JOY….” Today, teaching our families to celebrate joy is a form of rebellion in a world that seeks to rob us of joy by filling us with fear and sadness.

  • Celebrating joy takes intentional effort to see those things around us that are worthy of praise, things that are honorable. Then, after recognizing those things, acknowledging them with celebration. What has your spouse, parent, or child done today for which you can praise them? I’m sure there are numerous things to note.
  • Celebrating joy involves sharing gratitude with one another for even the “little things.” We can begin sharing gratitude within our families, thanking one another for even the mundane things done for one another every day.
  • Celebrating joy overflows when we intentionally share acts of kindness with each family member and the community around us.

The final weapon of Christmas is unity. Today the norm seems to be hatred, self-promotion, and division. But Jesus came to bring unity between man and God as well as unity between man and one another in Him. So, in the Christmas rebellion we continue to seek unity.

  • Unity is found in seeking truth and living in that truth. Within the family, we speak the truth to one another in love. We discipline one another to live in truth and integrity.
  • Unity is undergirded with the radical acceptance of one another in spite of differences or disagreements. Learning to practice this type of acceptance begins with accepting our family members in this way.
  • Unity is promoted through serving one another, showing each family member the full extent of our love.

Christmas has always been a bit rebellious, but it is time to make the Christmas rebellion a revolution. Will your family join the cause of the Christmas rebellion this year?

This Will Make Your Children Smarter

This simple activity has been shown to help children and adults learn more and remember better. In fact, two recent studies (one in 2017 and one in 2020) have shown how this activity increases brain activity to increase learning and memory. What is this activity? Writing by hand.

Writing by hand is a slower process to learn and practice than using a keyboard. It uses more intricate movements and stimulates more sensory areas of the brain than using a keyboard—the nuanced sensation of the paper, the ever-shifting feel of the pen, the subtle movement of the hand and fingers as they form different letters and shapes, the scratch of the pen on the paper, the sensation of the pen or pencil rolling across the paper, the vision of seeing the letters and words form, etc.  These sensory experiences create more contact between different areas of the brain, helping to further integrate the brain and open it up for greater learning.

Receiving so many Christmas gifts and experiences offers a tremendous time to help our children (and ourselves) get smarter by writing thank you notes. Of course, writing thank you notes has many other benefits as well (see 7 Wonderful Benefits of Writing Thank You Notes). Because it has become a lost art, if you need help knowing what to write, check out Forgotten Family Arts: The Thank You Note.

By the way, you don’t need to limit thank you notes to Christmas either. Write them with your children after birthdays, graduations, or simple get-togethers. Enjoy writing them as a family for no apparent reason except to show appreciation and gratitude to someone for whom you are thankful. You’ll build stronger relationships, improve mood, and yes, even “get smarter.”

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