Let’s face it. We live in a stressful world. Some teens respond to the stresses of life by acting impulsively, seeking immediate rewards over delayed gratification. However, not all adolescents respond to the stresses of life with impulsive behaviors. Some still delay gratification. Why? One of the factors that seems to contribute to whether or not a teen will act impulsively in response to stress is a lack of sleep during late childhood. Isn’t that interesting? Sleep deprivation during late childhood can impact impulsiveness in the teen years. In fact, in a study of 11,858 children from 9-10 years of age, lack of sleep and difficulty falling asleep was strongly associated with impulsive behavior in the teen years. Lack of sleep was also associated with less perseverance and more thrill-seeking behavior in adolescence in this study.
With that in mind, if you want to limit the risk of impulsive behavior in your children’s teen years, establish a healthy bedtime and sleep routine during childhood. What’s involved in a healthy sleep routine?
- Set a consistent bedtime. Going to bed at the same time every night helps the body recognize it is bedtime, time to sleep. This will help your child get a better night’s sleep on a more consistent basis.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. This routine for children might include a warm bath, brushing teeth, and spending time recalling things they enjoyed during the day. If necessary, resolve any incidents that aroused negative emotions during the day. Finally, read a book together. Read your children a story book or, as they get older, let them read to you.
- Help your child “set aside” their worries for the night. If your child has worries that keep them awake, try “giving” their worries to a “worry doll” and putting that doll in another part of the house. Or they can spend a short time writing in a journal, putting all their thoughts and worries on the paper of the journal before “closing it up” and “setting it aside” for the night. Pray together that God will take care of their worries.
- Take all screens out of the bedroom and stop using electronics at least half an hour before bedtime. Screens have an arousing quality. Screens in a bedroom often seem to result in children needing the noise of the screen to fall asleep. No screens in the bedroom.
- Make sure the bedroom is dark and quiet. Maintain a comfortable temperature. Our bodies and minds will relax more easily in a quiet, dark space.
- Avoid emotional discussions or movies before bedtime. Emotional movies and interactions arouse us and interfere with our sleep.
- Give your child a “security object” like a stuffed animal or a soft blanket. This can help increase their sense of security and comfort when they are in their room without a parent.
- Avoid caffeine after supper. Caffeine can have stimulating effects on your child, making it hard for them to go to sleep.
By establishing a healthy bedtime routine with your child, you are doing more than encouraging a good night’s sleep (although that is also a great benefit of a healthy bedtime routine). You are establishing a routine that will impact their emotional health for a lifetime, like increasing their ability to manage stress, decreasing the possibility of excessive amounts of impulsive behaviors in their teen years, and increasing their energy to work toward long-term rewards rather than settling for the more impulsive short-term reward. That sounds like an amazing investment, doesn’t it?
Gratitude offers tremendous benefits for those who practice it. When a person practices gratitude they experience increased happiness and life satisfaction, decreased anxiety and depression, a strengthened immune system, better sleep, and more. There is another benefit, however, that we rarely discuss. Specifically, when a person practices gratitude, the benefits overflow to those around them.
For families, this means that when a parent practices gratitude, the benefits overflow to their children. Consider the process of this overflow with me. When a parent practices gratitude, they experience a greater sense of well-being—fewer negative emotions, more empathic emotions, greater life satisfaction, a greater sense of connection, and even a greater sense of meaning in life. With those personal benefits, a parent “feels better” about themselves and their life. Feeling good about themselves, they become more open—more approachable and attentive. Not surprisingly, their children respond to their approachability and attentiveness with more positive behaviors and fewer challenging behaviors. Parent/child conflicts decrease as a grateful parent and child enjoy one another’s company. The increased positivity in the relationship opens the emotional and mental space to develop a greater sense of closeness between parent and child. Isn’t that wonderful? But it won’t stop there. All of this combines to increase a parent’s satisfaction with their role as a parent. Grateful to experience personal satisfaction in their role as a parent and to experience a rewarding closeness with their child, a parent becomes more open—more approachable and attentive…and so, the cycle continues.
There are a couple of things that make this cycle of gratitude especially appealing to me. One, I love the idea of growing closer with my children. Who wouldn’t? Second, it’s not hard to do. And it doesn’t take that much time. Just pay attention and invest the one second it takes to say, “Thank you” every chance you get. If you do it 120 times a day, it still only takes 2 minutes! But the rewards are amazing—it really offers the best bang for your buck. So, look around. Watch for opportunities to show gratitude to those around you. Then take a breath and let it out. “Thank you…” for doing the dishes, washing the clothes, putting gas in the car, passing the salt, helping to clear the table. The opportunities are endless, the benefits amazing…and it starts with you.
Have you ever noticed that when your room or desk or kitchen becomes messy or cluttered you begin to feel overwhelmed? I know I do. When my room begins to get cluttered, my mind begins to feel cluttered and a little more anxious. When the sink becomes filled with clutter (dirty dishes), I feel stressed. I know this isn’t true for everyone (and it’s not necessarily true for the edges of my desc). But it’s true for many…and it may be true for someone in your family. Why? At least one study suggest that many people experience “cognitive overload” in the midst of a cluttered environment. The clutter distracts their focus and attention, overwhelms them with stimuli, while they try to prioritize the information around them.
On the positive side, clutter has been linked with greater creativity (thus my desk—that’s my rational and I’m sticking with it!). Still, on the negative side, clutter has also been linked with eating a less healthy diet and less effective parenting which can potentially contribute to more behavioral problems. Clutter can also contribute to an increase in anxiety.
If clutter increases your stress or the stress of someone in your family, what can you do? The simple answer is to clear the clutter. But, in today’s busy and cluttered world, that can prove challenging at times. So here are some tips to help you declutter and “free your mind” from the stress of the mess, the tyranny of clutter.
- Declutter once a week. Set aside a specific time each week to clean up and declutter. Play some music in the background while you do. If you’d prefer, listen to a podcast while you clean your area. Recognize that as you reduce the distractions associated with clutter, you ease your mental load and free yourself to focus mentally and get more done.
- Establish “micro-decluttering times.” If you struggle to set an extended period once a week, try cleaning for 5-10 minutes each day.
- Bypass the clutter altogether. Develop the habit of “handling things (like the mail) once.” As soon as you get the mail, look at it. Decide what is necessary. If it’s junk mail, toss it right then and there. If it’s a bill, put it in a file for bills to be paid. The same principle can apply to dishes. After you eat, wash the plates and put them away…or rinse the and put them in the dishwasher. You get the idea. Don’t leave stuff laying around until you get to it. “Handle it once” and put it in its appropriate place.
- Define the clutter. Recognize that not all clutter is bad clutter. Perhaps you or a family member have certain areas of clutter that aids your “creative side” (my desk—I told you I’m sticking with it.) Discuss this as a family and define what area can have clutter, the boundaries of how far that clutter can extend, and any other limit on the clutter.
- Don’t go overboard. Remember, clutter happens. No need for perfectionism. In fact, a perfectionistic worry about clutter can prove as harmful as clutter for a person’s mental health. Do the best you can. Work together.
Don’t let the tyranny of clutter overwhelm you. Defeat the stress of the mess by implementing these 5 actions. Not only will you minimize the clutter in your home, but you will also maximize your cognitive space for giving undistracted attention to your family. Undistracted attention to my family…that sounds like a great reward.
Chronic loneliness is a killer. In fact, loneliness is as harmful to our health as smoking or a poor diet. Loneliness can also contribute to depression. We do everything we can to protect our children from the dangers of smoking or a poor diet. Why not do what we can to protect them from the dangers of a growing sense of loneliness. We can do that by helping them develop a sense of purpose in their lives. Encouraging them to nurture a healthy social group can help. But, a sense of purpose offers additional protection against loneliness, even beyond what their social interaction can contribute. How can we help our children find a sense of purpose that will protect them from the dangers of loneliness over their lifetime?
- Recognize their strengths and talents. Take time to appreciate your children’s abilities and interests. Provide them with opportunities to engage in activities that nurture their abilities and interests. Listen to what others—their teachers, peers, other parents, youth workers, coaches—value about them. Such outside parties can help you see areas of strength that you simply thought of as typical. Identify what your children care about and value. What activities seem to make them “light up”? What passions seem to drive them and command their attention? This can range from music, theatre, or sports to environmental issues, social issues, or even politics. Once again, nurture those passions with learning opportunities, readings, or activities.
- Read with your children. Reading provides an opportunity to explore the values of others and how their sense of purpose flows from their values. This exploration can lead to a clarification of purpose and inspiration of purpose. Reading can also nurture a sense of purpose. For instance, reading the biography of people we admire or with whom we share a similar passion, can nurture a sense of purpose.
- Turn hurts into healing. Sometimes a painful experience, or empathically witnessing another person’s painful experience, can reveal your child’s passion or even contribute to them developing a specific sense of purpose.
- Cultivate awe and gratitude. Both awe and gratitude help us discover our sense of purpose. They point us to our sense of purpose by revealing “something greater than ourselves” and inspiring us to grow beyond our small, self-focused world.
- Build community with other people who have a similar sense of purpose. Relationships do help us decrease loneliness. However, communities built around a sense of purpose can give added protection from loneliness. You can build such a community around a common interest, volunteer efforts, sports, youth groups, etc.
Not only will helping your child develop a sense of purpose protect them from loneliness, but it will add meaning and joy to their lives as well. And, as a parent, isn’t that what we all want?
“Mind reading” is one of the most important skills our children can learn. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about crystal ball stuff or telepathy. I mean developing what psychologists call a “theory of mind”—the ability to understand and take the perspective of another person’s feelings and intentions. This “theory of mind” or “mind reading” skill, is not related to intelligence and, even better, can be improved with practice.
What makes “mind reading” so important? For one thing, a recent study showed that “mind reading” skills improve a person’s ability to cooperate with others. It made it easier for them to understand the other person and get in sync with them. It also helped them to recover more quickly when they got out of sync with the other person. “Mind reading” (have a strong theory of mind) also helps a person have greater empathy and greater understanding of the other person’s beliefs and motives.
You can imagine how this “mind reading” skill can benefit relationships with friends, a future spouse, and family. The question becomes: how can we help our children develop beneficial mind reading skills? Good question. Here’s four actions that can get us started.
- Develop a strong, positive attachment with your child. A strong relationship begins with being aware of your children. Recognize when they are hungry. Remain aware of their emotions. Learn and practice an awareness of their perspective of the world. The next step is to go beyond simple awareness and respond to your child based on that awareness. If you recognize they are hungry, ask if they want a snack. If you see they are tired, encourage them to rest. If they look angry, ask and talk about their feelings. As you practice your theory of mind in this way, your child will learn from your example.
- Engage in pretend play with your child. Pretend play allows your child to “try on” various perspectives, learning to “think” and “feel” like a fireman, a princess, a mom, a teacher. They practice a wide range of emotions by being angry like a parent, firm like a teacher, scared like a puppy, majestic like a princess, heroic like a superhero, or any number of other imaginary scenarios. They also practice various ways of expressing emotions. Moreover, they can pretend to argue and disagree, learning to “see” the other person’s emotions and thoughts and respond appropriately. All in all, in pretend play our children try on different ways of interacting with the world and so develop a greater ability to “mind read.”
- Read books and tell stories. Once again, delving into a book and becoming immersed in the characters allows our children to experience another person’s world and so “read their mind” to know their thoughts and emotions. Talk about the characters in the stories. Discuss how they feel, how they express their feelings, how thoughts and situations contribute to those feelings, and how their actions reflect their feelings. You can also discuss whether other responses may have better expressed the feelings to others. This can help them learn to “mind read” and manage their own emotions as well.
- Talk about emotions, thoughts, and behaviors with your children. Make emotions an open topic for discussion. Learn about the possible thoughts and situations behind various emotions as well as the actions, both positive and negative, that can flow from those thoughts and emotions. Help your children see beyond the surface to the underlying motives and intentions, the hurt and sorrow, joy and celebration behind people’s statements and actions. Talk about your own emotions as well as your children’s emotions and the emotions of characters in movies, their friends, and other people in their lives. Doing so opens their lives to accept the perspectives and emotions of others. It builds their ability to cooperate and have empathy.
These four actions can help increase your child’s ability to “mind read” (and your ability as well). Even better, this will result in an increased ability to show empathy and cooperate as well. Don’t we need a little more empathy and cooperation in our world? Let it begin in our homes.
Some phrases we say in families are powerful. For instance, “I love you” can energize your loved one, lead to deeper connection with them, and change their day for the better. In a similar manner, “How can I help you?” is a question packed with the power of intimacy and connection. But there are some phrases I hear in families that kind of irritate me. Well, they do irritate me. They’re pet peeves of mine. Let me share three.
- “I have to babysit the munchkin tonight.” I generally hear this phrase spoken by a father, although I have heard mothers say it as well. Either way, you are the parent, not the babysitter. The babysitter has momentary responsibility and acts under the authority of the parent. A babysitter watches another person’s child. You are the parent. Calling a parent’s role “babysitting” minimizes the responsibility, gravity, and privilege of the parental role. Parents have a responsibility that endures for a lifetime. The gravity of that responsibility is enormous. Our children’s future and our society’s well-being depend on how seriously we take the role of parent. And being a parent is an amazing privilege filled with long-term delight. Parents don’t babysit their children. They have the privilege of caring for a special life that was born out of their love for one another. What a joy. “I have the privilege of spending time with my children (munchkins) tonight.” That’s a better phrase.
- “I have to….” You know, “I have to make dinner for my spouse.” “I have to go to my kid’s game tonight.” “I have to wash dishes for my family.” “I have to… (fill in the blank with some household or family task).” It’s true. There are tasks that we must do to keep our home and family running smoothly. But, “I have to” makes it sound like we grudgingly do it out of obligation…and that does not lead to a happy family life. Nor does it set a positive example for our children (who we want to participate in household tasks). In reality, doing my share of household tasks is an expression of love. We can make the task more of an expression of love by changing the “I have to” to “I want to.” “I want to” wash the dishes because I love my spouse. “I want to” help with the laundry because I love my spouse. “I want go to” my child’s game because I love my child. This moves the task from an obligation or a duty to a privilege and then to an expression of love. It moves the motivation from the external reward of task completion and a smooth-running home to the internal motivation of love. That is the basis for a happy family. By the way, “I want to clean the kitty litter.” (I’m practicing.)
- “Just calm down” or some variation of minimizing a family member’s emotion. Yes, statements like this one minimize how our family members perceive something and how they feel about it. It focuses only on their outward expression and dismisses what might be happening to them internally, in their mind or heart. And it shuts down the opportunity to learn important information about our family members. We only get excited or upset or angry about those things important to us. So, when a family member is excited or angry enough that we feel the need to tell them, “Just calm down,” they are probably reacting to something important to them. A statement that will lead to greater intimacy (and that is what we long for) is, “I see how important this is to you.” Or “what’s going on? What makes this so upsetting to you?” Get curious. Find out the value or priority behind the emotions. Discover what they see as so important that it leads them to have such a strong response. Learn about them. It will help you have a deeper, more intimate relationship.
Sadly, I have made all three of these statements in my life. We all feel like we’re “babysitting” because we “have to” at times. We get overwhelmed by other people’s emotions and want them to “just calm down.” Still, these phrases are not helpful, and I wish I had never said them. They can be hurtful, dismissive, and damaging to our relationships. Each time we say them, we have to repair the relationship we damaged. So, they are pet peeves of mine…even when I say them. Join me in putting in the effort to say healthier phrases like “I want to (clean the kitty litter or whatever household/family tasks you do),” “I have the privilege of spending time with my child tonight,” and “I see how important this is to you. Tell me more.”
Let’s face it…we have feelings. Our children have feelings. Our spouses have feelings. Those feelings can impact how we say what we say…and how others understand what we say. For instance, saying “Wait a minute” in an exasperated tone communicates something different than saying the same thing in a calm tone. We read into a statement based on the tone and extract meaning from the tone. The volume and cadence of what we say has a similar impact. As a result, our tone, volume, and cadence impact how others understand what we say. As you can imagine, this has a huge impact on our disagreements and arguments. So, especially when you find yourself in a disagreement with a family member, watch your tone, volume, and cadence.
- Listen to your tone of voice. Keep your tone as calm and neutral as you can. People will respond to the emotional charge in your voice. For instance, if your voice becomes emotionally charged with anger it may shut people down. Or, they may respond with similar energy, escalating the anger. Remain neutral and calm. Describe the situations that arouse your emotions in as calm and neutral a manner as possible. This will help everyone remain calmer and more able to think of solutions.
- Keep your volume in check. Have you ever noticed how a disagreement seems to get louder as the disagreeing parties talk. One person starts to get louder to make their point and the other person starts talking louder as well. And so it goes, both parties increasing in volume to make their point. Unfortunately, that loudness increases stress and pushes people toward a “fight or flight response” of defensiveness, criticism, or stonewalling. It interferes with connection and resolution. When you find yourself in a disagreement with your spouse or children, keep your volume low, soft, calm. Keep your volume conversational. This will go a long way in helping you achieve the true goal of any disagreement–connection.
- Watch your cadence. After Thanksgiving, my friend would ask me, “How was your Thanksgiving, (dramatic pause) turkey?” Now that question means something completely different than “How was your Thanksgiving turkey?” Right? The cadence, the pauses and pace of what we say, impact the meaning of what we say. Keep your cadence as steady and smooth as possible in a disagreement.
Your tone, volume, and cadence will have a huge impact on how well a potentially heated conversation ends. One of my friends compared the tone, volume, and cadence of a disagreement to football. As both teams line up at the line of scrimmage, the quarterback begins to his cadence. He calls out numbers and colors. He may slow it down, speed it up, yell some louder than others. He changes his tone, volume, and cadence in an attempt to draw the other team offsides. When it comes to our families, however, we don’t want to draw a penalty. We want to keep everyone on the same side. We want to keep our tone calm, our volume conversational, and our cadence smooth so our family remains in the line of healthy communication, connecting with one another in a healthy, loving way.
Does anyone in your family ever feel any anxiety, depression, loneliness, or fear of missing out (FOMO)? If you or your family have any of these feelings, let me suggest a 2-week experiment. Researchers at Iowa state University conducted this experiment with 230 participants and found it had a positive impact in just 2 weeks. Specifically, after 2 weeks of making this one change in their behavior, the participants reported lower anxiety, depression, loneliness, and FOMO. They also felt more positive emotions like excitement and pride. So, this one daily action led to both fewer negative emotions and more positive emotions.
What did they do to produce these results? They attempted to cut back their social media use to 30 minutes a day. That’s right, they attempted to use their social media only 30 minutes a day. Notice I used the word “attempted.” The participants agreed to use social media only 30 minutes a day, but sometimes exceeded the 30-minute time limit. Good news—even if they sometimes exceeded that 30-minute usage, they experienced the same results, fewer negative emotions and more positive emotions. It seems that simply putting in the effort to minimize social media usage and becoming more aware of one’s social media usage contributed to the positive results.
If you think cutting back on social media usage sounds too difficult, let me offer some suggestions to help.
- Increase your awareness of your social media usage. Set a timer. Use your phone settings to look up how much time you engage social media sites. Use a wellness app to monitor your time on social media. In whatever way you choose, the goal remains to increase your awareness of time spent on social media.
- Be kind to yourself. Show yourself compassion. It’s not easy to make changes. Social media apps are designed to keep you engaged so it may prove difficult to make this change. Stick with it. Don’t give up. Even attempting to do this brings positive results.
- Make it a 2-week experiment, not an indefinite change. Do it for 2-weeks then assess how well you did and the impact on your emotions and relationships. Have your feelings of anxiety or depression lessoned? Do you find yourself enjoying more face-to-face interactions? Do you feel less lonely? Are you sleeping better?
- If you don’t want to make it a lifestyle change, make it a “one-week-a-month change.” Even doing this for periods of time will have a positive effect. Take a social media vacation once a month or once a quarter…whatever you choose.
I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the impact that this experiment will have on you and your family. Less anxiety, less depression, less loneliness, more excitement…seems worth the try to me.
“Helicopter parenting” is characterized by over-involvement, over-protection, and over-control. It contributes to negative results for children, but does that negative impact linger after they leave home for college? One group of researchers decided to find out. They collected demographic data from 505 college students as well as information about the parenting they received growing up and the level of interpersonal conflict they experience in college. In a second round of surveys, they measured the students’ sense of entitlement and their fear of missing out.
The results of this study indicate that students who were raised under “helicopter parents” had more interpersonal conflict with peers. This seemed to stem from an increased sense of entitlement and fear of missing out, which also increased under the tutelage of “helicopter parents.” In other words, “helicopter parenting” contributed to a child feeling entitled. It also contributes to them developing an overestimation of their abilities, an excessive focus on self, and a potential lack of autonomy. Those qualities contribute to greater interpersonal conflict even after they left the nest of the “helicopter parents.”
So, what can a parent do to avoid the impact of being a “helicopter parent”? Balance the job of parenting to avoid becoming over-protective and over-involved. Strive for balance in your parenting style. For instance,
- Strive for a balance between involvement with your child and encouraging autonomy in your child. It can prove difficult to “let go,” but the benefits of letting our children and teens practice age-appropriate autonomy are tremendous and lifelong. Provide your children the opportunities to behave in autonomous ways.
- Strive for a balance between assisting your child (i.e., making sure they get all their school projects done and are prepared for tests, choosing their clothing or activities) and letting them experience the consequences of their choices. Children learn from the lived consequences of their choices and behaviors. Trust them to manage and learn from those consequences.
- Strive for a balance between jumping in to save your child from struggling relationships and letting them resolve their own conflicts. Step back and trust your child. Ask if they want help and help if they ask. Let them know you’re “in their corner,” but you trust them to be “in the ring” managing the interactions. They will learn so much when you stay “in their corner” and out of the ring, trusting them to manage their relationships. You might even be surprised at how effectively they do so.
- Strive for a balance between praising your child for their achievements and acknowledging their effort and choices. Our children learn best when we acknowledge their efforts. This helps them develop a growth mindset which will benefit them throughout their life. Focus on effort, not end product achievement.
There are many other areas in which a parent strives for balance. In fact, parenting often feels like one big balancing act. But the benefits of striving for that balance far outweigh the consequences of over-involvement and over-protection in our children’s lives.
If you want to boost your teen’s brain power, start when they are children, before the time of the teen push for independence. Really, this way of boosting teen brain power is quite simple. Encourage them to read as children. A study of over 10,243 teens found reading for pleasure during childhood contributed to improved verbal learning, memory, speech development, and school academic achievement in the teen years.
Even more, reading for pleasure as a child was associated with fewer signs of stress and depression, improved attention, and fewer incidents of aggression and rule-breaking in teen.
But wait, there’s more. Children who read for pleasure also engaged in less screen time as a teen and slept longer.
The best results were found in those teens who read up to 12 hours a week as a child. That’s about one hour and 43 minutes a day. So, if you want to boost your teens brain power, awaken the joy of reading in them while they are still children. Here’s how to begin.
- Let your children see you reading for pleasure. Children follow our example. So, let them see you read for pleasure, not just for work. Talk about the fun things you’ve read about or the stories you read. Let them hear you talk about the adventures you enjoy while reading.
- Read to your children. When they are very young, read simple picture books. As they get older you can read children’s chapter books. Make it a fun time together by engaging them while reading rather than simply reading the page in a monotone voice. Take on the voice of each character. Ask questions about what your child thinks might happen next. React to surprising twists in the plot. Engage the story and your child as you read.
- As your children begin to read independently, read the same book they are reading. Talk about the book with them. Enjoy sharing your reactions and surprises to the book.
- Visit the library together. Walk through the stacks of books with your children and discover the joys of what you can learn and read. If your library has reading times, take your child to them.
- Depending on the kind of book your children enjoy, you can visit the places described in the book. For instance, if your child reads a book about the American revolution and you live near Philadelphia, take a road trip and visit the Liberty Bell. Reading about Walt Disney may lead up to a trip to Disneyland or reading about Martin Luther King may lead up to a trip to Atlanta. You get the idea. Let the books come alive by visiting a place associated with that book.