Take Time to Reflect

In her book Hunt, Gather, Parent, Michaeleen Doucleff, PHD, describes “three steps [a parent can use] to transmit any value they want to a child.” These three steps include modeling, acknowledging, and practicing. And it’s true. Parents use these three powerful actions to transmit values to their children whether they know it or not, even whether they intend to or not. If we don’t reflect on what we model, acknowledge, and practice, we may pass on values that we never wanted our children to learn. As an example, consider children and teen technology use.

Practice: Many parents give their children lots of practice in the unhealthy use of technology. For instance, we hand our toddlers our cell phone or iPad to keep them calm, busy, and out of our hair. We may also give children and teens technology to counter their boredom during a long drive. In other words, we encourage them to use technology to deal with frustrations or boredom and, in the process, discourage them from learning other methods of dealing with frustrations and boredom (like reading, playing a game, or conversing with other people). In fact, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry notes that we let 8-12-year-old children practice using technology 4-6 hours a day. Teens practice using technology up to 9 hours a day. Imagine if they practiced math, a sport, or an instrument that many hours a day.

Acknowledge: We acknowledge our children’s behavior by attending to it. Negative attention and positive attention both reinforce behavior.  The more energetic our attention (positive or negative), the greater the reinforcement. When we yell at our child to “get off the phone” we are providing energetic attention to a behavior we don’t like. When we constantly complaining about them playing video games, we are giving attention to a behavior we find frustrating. In both cases, our acknowledgment simply reinforces their continued technology usage. Sure, they may turn it off in the moment, but they will return to it the first chance they get. After all, our energetic acknowledgment has helped to build and reinforce their self-concept as someone who “always uses technology…” just like we told them. Instead of acknowledging their use of technology in energetic, frustrated tones, invest your energy in engaging them in more valued activities. Energetically acknowledge their involvement with friends, their progress in academics, their kindness to others, their active participation in sports, or other activities you want your children to learn to value. I’m sure your child has a much broader life than one of simple technology use. Acknowledge those other areas. Acknowledge when they use technology in appropriate ways and at appropriate times as well. This can help them learn the appropriate use of technology in their lives.

Model: Too often we—the parents—model the kind of technology usage we hate in our children. It’s true. Consider these statistics. Over 70% of married couples report cell phones frequently interfere with their relationships. In one study, 40 of the 55 parents observed with children in a fast-food restaurant used their cell phone. The more they used their cell phone the more their children either withdrew from them or engaged in limit testing behaviors to gain their attention. When we allow our technology use to interfere with our interactions with our children, we model a level of technology use we want our children to avoid. Unfortunately, our children learn to do what we model. They do as we do much more often than they do as we say.

Practicing, acknowledging, and modeling are powerful ways in which we teach our children and teens about behaviors we value. Unfortunately, if we don’t practice, acknowledge, and model thoughtfully, we may pass on values we don’t agree with and never wanted our children to learn. Take time to reflect. It may prove one of the most effective parenting tools we have. 

Book Review: Hunt, Gather, Parent

Michaeleen Doucleff, the author of Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans, was looking for guidance on raising her strong-willed, rambunctious 3-year-old. As any good investigative journalist would do, she began to research the “options.” And the most effective ideas and parenting guidance she discovered came from sources flung to the far ends of the world. With daughter in tow, she visited a variety of indigenous peoples—a Mayan village in Mexico, Inuit families in the Arctic Circle, and Hadzabe families in Tanzania—to gain some very useful parenting advice. And I loved it. Some of the reviews I read were critical of various aspects of this book. For instance, they accused her of a gender bias, espousing parenting techniques of indigenous peoples as though they have no counterparts in Western parenting guidance (in fact, they are similar to Montessori or RIE parenting), and “framing tribal parents as eternally happy, and Western parents…as miserable victims of circumstances.”

I don’t know about all that…but I do know our society gets so caught up in finding fault and criticizing where a work (in our opinion) falls short , where we think it won’t work, or simply what’s wrong with it…rather than looking at the good gifts the work offers for many situations and people. And Hunt, Gather, Parent offers many excellent gifts. It offers wonderful advice to parents about effective ways of raising their children, advice that both fathers and mothers can apply.

This advice is founded, in part, on a parent’s perspective of children. Are children simply miniature adults that we can expect to behave appropriately? Or are they children who need to learn how to behave, manage emotions, and do tasks we call chores? Hadzabe parents offered Ms. Doucleff an excellent answer. In addition to this, Michaeleen Doucleff learned practical ways to remain calm when her child engages in tantrum behavior, how to encourage cooperation rather than control, and how to meet personalized needs rather than expect developmental milestones. She also talks with a variety of experts along the way to learn more about what she was witnessing and putting into practice.

All in all, this book is filled with gifts for every parent—great ideas and practical takeaways every parent will find helpful, all wrapped in a warm storytelling style. Use what you can, and you will not only find your children’s behavior improving, but your relationship with your children improving as well. And isn’t that what we all want?

What I Learned at Family Camp This Year

Well, Terry and Jim Jones did it again. They organized another fantastic Family Camp Weekend at Camp Christian. We all laughed and cried as the speaker, Tim Hartman, taught timeless principles from God’s word. I appreciated not only his humor but his vulnerability in the memorable examples he used to support the lessons. I wanted to share a couple thoughts I found especially meaningful.

  • Our families, especially our children, need us to share our faith stories with them.  They need to hear how God is working in our lives. That means we have to open our own eyes to recognize God’s working. So, what is your faith story today? How is God working in your life and the life of your family this week? Let your family know. (This sounds like a great dinner conversation, by the way.)
  • God doesn’t need our anger. He doesn’t need us to make things work His way. He’s got it under control. In fact, “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”  What does God want from us? He wants our faithful obedience…and that is challenging enough. Faithful obedience will bear witness to our families and our communities of God’s love. It will help build a loving community within our families and communities.
  • To practice a faithful obedience, we must learn to listen. Listening takes humility. Listening takes courage. Listening is an act of love and patience. I wonder what would happen if we all took even just one day a week and humbly silenced our need to be heard and listened instead, really listened to those around us? What would happen if we spent more time listening to our spouse then trying to justify our actions? What would happen if we spent more time listening to our children than in telling them what to do and lecturing them for their “mistakes”? Or, as the Tim implied, what might we accomplish if we listened intently to God and faithfully obeyed?
  • Finally, we are a tool…in the hand of God. We have a purpose. As we listen and faithfully obey, we become a tool under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Hopefully we will be as tenacious in that purpose as “Bowser the Rabbit Terror,” although I hope our purpose will be more lifegiving than the tenacious Bowser’s purpose was.

Family camp is more than just the formal times of worship and teaching though. It’s a wonderful time of fellowship and sharing. I especially love to see families engaged in activities with their children and other families. This year I was even allowed the opportunity to help build a dam with the teens and children present. I experienced the joy of following their direction as they constructed a stone dam, create a small, refreshing pool we could sit in and play. I thank them for allowing me to participate in this work with them.

All in all, we had a wonderful time of fellowship, fun, and learning. Thanks Terry and Jim putting it all together. Thanks for all who led in singing, prepared meals, served the food, cleaned, and gave devotions. Thanks for allowing us to enjoy the time together. Looking forward to another great one next year.

If I Had Only Known Then…

I wish I had written this blog about 10 years ago. I could have used the information. But I suppose late is better than never. And, if you have children or teens in your home right now, you’ll find this information very helpful. I remember my daughter coming home angry from school or coming home upset after an outing with friends. Not every time… but several times. Has that happened to you? If it hasn’t and you have children, it probably will. Anyway, I hate to see my daughters upset so I tried to fix the problem and make them feel better. Impossible. Didn’t help.  I tried using humor a few times, but it usually ended up with them directing their anger at me. Apparently, using dad humor when your children are upset is a bad idea. I reasoned with them. No good. Only made it worse. Eventually, I just threw up my hands in defeat and let them stew in their frustration and anger.

If only I had known what this study out of Ohio State University reveals. It could have saved me a lot of heartache. This study consisted of three experiments that included a total of 307 participants. Each participant spent five minutes writing about an incident that made them “intensely angry.” Then, they verbally described the incident to a researcher. As you can imagine, their anger grew as they completed this exercise.

After listening to the participant describe their anger-provoking incident, the researcher either validated or invalidated their angry feelings. They either responded with validating comments like, “Of course, you’d be angry about that” and “I can understand getting angry about that” or invalidating comments like, “That doesn’t sound like anger,” or “Why would you get angry about that?”

Not surprisingly, participants who heard validating comments recovered their positive emotional states. Those who heard invalidating comments did not. In fact, the “recovered positive mood” of the validated participants either matched or exceeded their positive mood prior to recalling the anger-provoking incident.

If only I had known that 10 years ago. I could have responded to my daughter’s anger about school incidents or conflict with friends with validating comments. You know:

  • “I can understand how that would make you angry.”
  • “Wow, that would really make someone angry.”
  • “I’d be angry about that, too.”

Simple, validating comments that could have helped my daughters regain their positive mood. Validating comments that could have enabled us to have a more enjoyable evening. Oh, but I do have a secret about this idea of validating though. It works with adults, too—adults like my spouse and my adult children. And, it has already saved a few evenings of heartache.  Give it a try. Validate the angry feelings and enjoy an evening of positive moods. (Validating will also help you use the power of empathy in connecting with your family.)

4 Great “BUT’s” of Parenting

We love to see our children happy BUT we don’t want to spoil them to keep them happy. We want to provide a nice home and plenty of healthy opportunities for our children to grow BUT we don’t want to feel guilty about spending too much time away from our children earning the money to make those opportunities a possibility. We want, dare I say need, adult time with friends BUT we don’t want our children to feel unloved or abandoned.

Yes, parenting is a bit of a balancing act BUT the 4 “BUTS” below can help you find the proper balance.

  1. Children benefit from the opportunity to express their emotions, including anger; BUT they can remain polite and kind as they do. I met one mother who allowed her 6-year-old son to smack her repeatedly when he was angry. She felt he needed to express his anger.  In reality, children benefit from learning to manage their anger and other emotions, not express it through violence. Part of learning to manage our emotions is learning to utilize the energy of an emotion to meet the need that contributes to that emotion…and doing so in a positive manner.
  2. There is an appropriate time for a parent to apologize; BUT simply because your child is disappointed is not one of those times. Sure, a parent needs to apologize if they lose their cool for no good reason or accidentally say something that hurts their child’s feelings. BUT there is no need to apologize because your child is simply disappointed for not getting everything they want when they want it. In fact, it’s healthy to learn that sometimes we can’t have everything we want because it’s too expensive, too time consuming, or we already have more than we need.
  3. No parent likes to see their child engage in tantrum behavior; BUT “giving in” to their tantrum behavior only increases the chances that they’ll tantrum again. “Giving in” to tantrum behavior empowers your child. It teaches them that tantrum behavior works, it gets them just what they want when they want it. If it works, it’s powerful. And who doesn’t repeat what works? Rather than “giving in” to their tantrum behavior, ignore it. If they tantrum in public, calmly escort your child to a more private place and wait for them to stop.  Once they calm down, talk about what may have led to the tantrum. They may have a genuine concern to address. If so, address it. And talk about healthier ways to communicate their needs and their emotions.
  4. Children have a right to be disappointed with a limit or rule; BUT you don’t have to argue to justify the rule. It is alright for children to get disappointed. It’s a part of life. And it’s alright for children to want to know the reason behind a limit or rule.  Simply state the rule and the intent of the rule, then refuse to argue about it. Make sure the rule is appropriate and actually accomplishes what you intend, then stick with it. If there is wiggle room, you might discuss it (not argue about it) with your children. Let them give the reasons they believe the rule might be changed. Then tell them you will think about it and get back to them. Perhaps you’ll change it and explain why you. Perhaps you will not change it and you’ll simply explain why you chose not to change it. No arguing. Just stating it once. (Read Help, My Child ALWAYS Argues With Me for ideas on what to do instead of arguing.)

These four great “buts” of parenting can help bring balance and clarity to your parenting goals.

What Are We Teaching Our Children?

I was speaking to a father in my office when his 2-year-old daughter brought him an Etch-A-Sketch from the toy shelf. Tapping the screen, she said, “I-pad broke, Daddy. I-pad broke.” We both smiled.

Perhaps you’ve seen a parent in a store or restaurant carting a somewhat fussy toddler. In frustration, they hand their toddler their cell phone and, voila, a calm toddler. Infant toddler media use is on the rise. Parents report that on average, children younger than 2-years-old spend about an hour a day of screen time. Children between 0- and 8-years-old read, or are read to, about half an hour a day while spending an average of an hour and 25 minutes engaged in screen time. Even more, 19% of the parents in the survey reported using media to regulate their children’s emotions “often” and 36% reported doing this “some of the time.” (Read more here.) What are we teaching our children with all this? Unfortunately, we may be teaching them to reach for their media devices when upset or bored, increasing the risk of a media addiction.  Another study found that toddlers were more likely to tantrum in response to frustration when their parents used media to help them stay calm.

“But my child can’t wait patiently at the restaurant… or sit in the car for a long drive… or get through a store without a screen. They’ll have a meltdown.” That’s good news. It means you have a great opportunity to teach your children better ways to regulate their emotion and their boredom. Here are some ways you can help.

  • Prepare ahead of time. Bring some simple activities to distract or engage your child. This might include small toys, dolls, picture books, or stickers. Be creative and bring whatever small thing might entertain your child. (For one idea read Teach Your Child the Art of Waiting.)
  • Accept and validate their emotions. I know I get bored on a long car ride. It’s easy to get frustrated at the supermarket. If we as adults have these experiences, our children probably do, too. Label their emotion for them. Empathize with them. Even comfort and soothe them.
  • Label their emotions when they get upset. Children benefit from gaining an “emotional vocabulary.” Having a word to use in expressing an emotion increases their ability to manage that emotion in a healthy way. (Learn 6 Ways to Make Your Children’s Emotions Your Friend.)
  • Engage your child’s help. Even 2-year-olds enjoy helping” Mommy and Daddy.” Set them on the lookout for the picture on their favorite cereal box. Talk through your decision between apples or oranges with them. Make the journey a mystery. “I wonder what we’ll find in this aisle?” Engage them in the activity through playful interactions, conversation, and simple decision-making.
  • In the process, enjoy time with your child. Children seem to have a “second sense” about whether their parents are upset, frustrated, or happy. And, younger children take their emotional cues from their parent. Whey you enjoy time with your child, it is more likely they’ll enjoy time with you.

Teen Empathy or Delinquency…And YOU

Parents want their teens to engage in acts of empathy, not acts of delinquency. Right? Of course. A study using data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian children analyzed the data gathered on 3,865 children (ages 12-years-old to 17-years-old) over a period of 4 years to explain a great way to teach children empathy. This study found that children who perceived their parents as giving empathic support were less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors like drawing graffiti, destroying property, and using threats or force to take money from another person. Material support and mere presence did not have as great an impact on reducing these delinquent behaviors as did empathic support. It seemed that empathic support from parents modeled empathy for the teens, nurturing the development of empathy in their lives.

What does this mean for us as parents? It means that we need to practice empathy if we want our teens to practice empathy. As you develop, nurture, and practice empathy in your life, your children are more likely to as well. They will develop the ability to acknowledge and understand the feelings of others and act accordingly as they witness you doing the same. In other words, nurture empathy in your life and you nurture empathy in your children’s lives. So, how can you nurture and model empathy in your life?

  • Avoid jumping to conclusions or making snap judgments.  In general, things are not as simple as they appear. Rather than making assumptions, consider what factors may contribute to other people’s behaviors and actions. Think about what their deeper intent might be. Things are generally not as simple as they appear.
  • Learn from other people, especially those different than you. Listen to people who come from different backgrounds and even have different beliefs than you. You don’t have to agree. Simply listen and seek to understand. Learn how they “came to their conclusions.” Learn to communicate your ideas and beliefs in a manner that invites dialogue rather than sounding judgmental.
  • Look for commonalities with other people, even those who are different than you. I believe you will find most people come together when we consider our common vulnerability to suffering, our common desire for connection and love, and our pursuit of security and belonging. Consider how you might connect with people in these (and other) common aspects of our humanity.
  • Learn from stories and films. As you read a story or watch a movie, “get inside” the character’s mind. Seek to understand their motives and their actions based on what you learn of them through the story.
  • Broaden your range of experiences. Meet people from different cultures and economic levels. Develop relationships and learn from each other.
  • Perform random acts of kindness. No explanation needed. Show kindness every chance you get.
  • Practice each of the tips above toward your family members in a responsive, warm, and nurturing way. Rather than jumping to conclusions when something happens, think and listen. Take time to learn from your spouse, your parents, and even your children. Look for commonalities with each of your family members, especially when you hit upon topics and themes of disagreement. Show kindness to your family every day.
  • Build an emotional vocabulary. The broader a person’s vocabulary for speaking about emotions, the more aware they can become of their own emotions and the better able they are to empathize with another’s emotion.

As you practice these tips toward your family and in view of your family, your children will more likely grow in empathy…not delinquency.

Avoiding the Family Flush of Criticism

Criticism is toxic. It creates a toxic environment that threatens to flush your happy family right down the tubes. It’s true. It never helps and it always hurts. Consider the cycle of criticism. Criticism causes the person criticized to retreat behind walls of protection and toss out bombs of defensiveness against the one criticizing them. Criticism also captures the one criticizing in a cycle that focuses on the negative and, as a result, perceive an unending list of reasons to remain unhappy and angry. Unhappy, angry criticism leads to more unhappy, angry criticism, eliciting and swirling around with a protective distancing and defensiveness, both reinforcing the other as your happy marriage and family are flushed away in the toxic environment of criticism. Criticism never helps. It always hurts.

But what if you have a genuine concern, an unmet need that you must express? How can we offer a concern, even a complaint, without falling into the flushing cycle of criticism? After all, our children, our spouses, even our parents will do things that we will rub us the wrong way, pushing us to criticize their choices or requiring some form of correction. How do we address these legitimate concerns without criticism?

First, become aware of our feelings and take time to understand those feelings. Why does my spouse’s behavior or words arouse my anger? Why do my child’s actions make me feel so helpless? Why do my parents get on my last nerve? What priority are they touching upon? What thoughts are their words and actions arousing in me? Are these thoughts rational or extreme? Answering these questions will help us understand and respond to our feelings more accurately and calmly.

Second, take responsibility for our feelings. Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with saying, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Our feelings, and how we act on those feelings, are our responsibility. We cannot blame our spouse, our child, or our parent. Instead, we can take ownership of the way we respond to our feelings. Accept your power. Manage your emotions. Don’t give the power away by blaming the other person.

Third, take a “criticism fast” (Much of this information is taken from The Marriage Vaccine, the idea of a “criticism fast” in particular). For the next 30 days, do not criticize. Remember, criticism never helps. It always hurts. Focus on complimenting, encouraging, thanking, and admiring the good you see in the other person and the good in what you see them doing.

Fourth, if you have a genuine concern that you need to address, do it with kindness. (Join the Kindness Challenge with Shaunti Feldhahn.) Here is a process to help you express your concern with kindness rather than criticism.

  1. Nurture your compassion toward them before you speak. Consider how the action or words you want to address may impact that person in a negative way. When you can feel some level of compassion for the other person (the person you want to criticize) move on to step two.
  2. When you address the concern, begin with a gentle start up. Remember, your discussion will end like it begins [blog]. Use a neutral tone. Avoid “you-statements” as they
    are easily interpreted as blaming. Objectively describe a specific situation that epitomizes your complaint [Turn your Argument Into the Best…].
  3. Offer a simple, positive action the other person can take in the future to remedy any similar situation. Offering this type of solution invites your partner to relate in a new way, a way that can build deeper intimacy. It invites your spouse into a deeper relationship.

These four tips can help you avoid the flush of criticism that will send your happy family swirling down the tubes and, instead, develop a more intimate, loving family.

Marriage in a Box: Nasty, Neutral, or Nice?

Every marital interaction falls into a box according to Dr. John Gottman. One box is the nasty box. Even happy couples find themselves in the nasty box sometimes. We’ve all been there—frustrated, critical, defensive, blaming, and even contemptuous. But unhappy couples get stuck in the nasty box. They live and die in the nasty box. Couples who get stuck in the nasty box have about 4 positive interactions for every 5 negative interactions. Read that sentence again. They have more negative than positive interactions. This ratio contributes to a lack of emotional connection. (For more on how to use this ratio to strengthen your marriage and family read Family Bank of Honor and Making Deposits in a Topsy-Turvy Bank.) Couples in the nasty box are not only emotionally disconnected, but they are also afraid of to express the vulnerability needed to “open up” emotionally. And they lack the skills needed to resolve conflict. No one wants to live in the nasty box. It’s…well, nasty and miserable. We all want to live in the nice box.

The nice box is filled with mutual respect, affection, cherishing, and trust. Unfortunately, no one lives in the nice box 100% of the time. But healthy couples offer expressions of repair when they step out of the nice box into the nasty box. These expressions of repair help decrease the tension during conflict and confirm their affection for one another. Repairs are made possible because each spouse is aware of the other spouse’s inner world. They respect their spouse’s inner world and respond to it in a loving way. Expressions of repair can include a smile, an open-ended question, an inside joke, a touch, a gesture…anything that communicates love and commitment.

Still, happy couples only spend part of their time in the nice box. Surprisingly, happy couples spend most of their time in the neutral box, even when having a disagreement. In fact, Dr. Gottman’s research suggests that happy couples spend 65% to 70% of their time in the neutral box. Unhappy couples spend only 47% of their time in the neutral box, leaving much more time for the nasty box. The ability of a married couple to sit with one another in the neutral box reveals a trust nurtured by engagement and responsiveness. It is the byproduct of work done in the past to proactively grow a healthy relationship.

In which box does your marriage reside? You can learn to live in neutral and nice box by learning about one another’s lives, expressing adoration toward one another on a daily basis, turning toward one another to overcome life’s obstacles and celebrate life’s joys, and planning a future of celebration together.

For Your Family’s Sake, Go To Bed

Every mother knows that ta lack of sleep tonight leads to an irritable child tomorrow. Now, a study that monitored 2,000 adults over an 8-day period reveals that a lack of sleep impacts adults as much as it does children. This study also provides a little more specific look at that impact. Let me share 3 things this study revealed.

  1. Adults who got more sleep reported higher levels of positive emotions and lower levels of negative emotions than those who got less sleep.
  2. Stressful events did NOT lessen positive emotions the day after a good night’s sleep like they did after a poor night’s rest.
  3. A good night’s sleep contributed to an “even greater boost in the positive emotions experienced the next day.” In other words, positive emotions were even better after a good night’s sleep.

These findings reveal how sleep impacts each of us. However, these results also show how sleep impacts our families. First, a lack of sleep contributes to irritability, which can harm family relationships over time. Second, positive emotions build stronger family relationships. A lack of sleep robs us of positive emotions. Getting enough sleep, on the other hand, prepares us to experience and enjoy positive emotions…and positive emotions cultivate greater intimacy.
So for the sake of your family, get to bed. Develop a good sleep habit.

Here are some hints to help you get a better night’s sleep.

  • Keep a regular bedtime and “wake up time.” Go to bed at a similar tune every night and set your alarm to get up at the same time every morning. This will contribute to a good night’s rest.
  • Limit light and noise in the room where you sleep. We sleep best in quiet, dark spaces. Make your room conducive to sleep.
  • Turn off screens 90 minutes before bed. Screens stimulate us and cause us to “forget the time.” We may decide to “check one thing” on our phone only to realize later that we “should have been asleep two hours ago.” Plus, the screen’s “blue light” interferes with our sleep. In fact, you might consider purchasing glasses with a “blue light filter” if your work demands you use a computer often. (Here is the enemy of teen sleep that may be the enemy of your sleep.)
  • If you are unable to fall asleep after about 30 minutes, get up and go into another room. Engage in some activity that will not arouse or stimulate you. Return to your bed when you are ready to fall asleep.
  • Take a warm bath or shower 90 minutes before bedtime. Studies suggest that a warm bath or shower helps people fall asleep quicker, sleep longer, and sleep more efficiently.
  • If worries about tomorrow keep you awake, write out a to-do list. Research suggests that the more specific the list, the faster people fall asleep.
  • Relax your body. Go through a progressive muscle relaxation routine. You can also focus on your breathing and relax.
  • Spend some time in nature every day. People sleep better after enjoying nature.
  • Exercise is also associated with better sleeping and sleep habits. Take time to exercise on a regular basis. It will help you sleep.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
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