Archive for Family Shepherds

The New Order of “Awe-Walkers”

Would you like your family to experience more happiness? Less upset? Greater social connection? If you answer yes, the New Order of Awe-Walkers invites you to join their ranks. It’s free (well, I just made it up) and the required activities can be completed in as little as 15 minutes a week. I decided to start the New Order of Awe-Walkers in response to a recent piece of research. In this research, a group of people in their 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s were divided into groups by researchers affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco. Both groups were asked to go for a 15-minute walk once a week for 8 weeks. Both groups were also asked to take a “selfie” during their walk and send it to “the lab.” Finally, both groups were asked to complete a daily on-line assessment of their mood.

Only one group, however, was given instructions to cultivate awe as they walked. Specifically, they were asked to walk somewhere new, pay attention to details, and see “everything with fresh, childlike eyes.” This group became the “awe-walkers.” The other group simply went for a walk.

Not surprisingly, the “awe-walkers” improved their ability to discover and amplify awe. They also reported greater happiness, less feeling of upset, and greater feelings of social connection than the “non-awe-walkers.”

Even more surprising to me, the “selfies” taken by the “awe-walkers” changed over the time of the experiment. The “awe-walker,” although still in the “selfie,” became less focal to the picture and even secondary as the scenery around them grew more prominent and focal. In a sense, the world became larger. They became a little less self-focused in their selfie and more “a part” of a larger, more awe-inspiring world.

Based on this research, I invite your family to join the New Order of “Awe-Walkers.” To join only involves two steps… make that three.

  1. Commit to going for a 15-minute walk with your family every week.
  2. While walking, pay attention to the details around you. Intentionally see “everything with fresh, childlike eyes.”
  3. Talk with your family as you walk, sharing with one another what each one finds “awe-
    some.”

That’s it. Just fifteen minutes once a week to enjoy an “awe-walk” with your family….and then share the increase in happiness and social connection it will produce. Won’t you join the New Order of “Awe-Walkers”? (For more on the power of awe for your family read Using the Power of Awe for Your Family.)

Help, My Child ALWAYS Argues With Me

If you’re a parent, you’ve had the experience. You know the one. It’s the experience of making one simple request of your child only to hear them start to argue with you…AGAIN! Suddenly, the last few days come to mind and you notice that every time you said something to our child it turns into an argument. And, every time they spoke to you, it became an argument. Those days of arguments feel like weeks and those weeks suddenly feel like months of constant arguing. I know the feeling. So, if you’ve ever been there, if you’ve ever thought “Help. All my child does is argue,” here are a few tips to help stop the cycle.

First, recognize that arguing is normal for children. It provides them the opportunity to practice using their developing cognitive skills. It helps them assert their growing independence. It even provides them the opportunity to think through their priorities, values, and morals. After all, it’s a lot more effective to let mom and dad debate one side than to debate both sides of the argument in my own mind.  Knowing that arguing is developmentally appropriate means you do not have to take it personal. It’s not about you. It’s all part of the process of growing up. Let them bump.

Second, arguing is not about being right. Again, your child is asserting independence, testing your fortitude, practicing cognitive skills. You can focus on the relationship rather than proving yourself right and your child wrong. You can focus on connection. Remember, your child learns best from those they feel connected to, those with whom they have a relationship. As a rule: connect first, teach second. Relationships rule.

Third, sometimes the best way to stop the cycle of arguing it to not argue back. Take a breath, bite your tongue, and do not argue back. In fact, as soon as you take the bait and respond with an argument, you have given your child the power. By NOT engaging in the argument, on the other hand, you teach your children how to have a respectful argument with someone they disagree with.

Fourth, acknowledge your child’s stated concern and implicit feelings. Many times, our children simply want to be deeply heard. When you restate their concern and reflect their feelings back to them, they will know you are listening. They will learn you value them enough to listen deeply. They will feel deeply heard and trust you more. A simple pattern to assure you listen deeply is to say something like, “It sounds like you feel ‘x’ because ‘their statement of concern.’” After they confirm you understand, you can follow up with a statement like “Let’s work on that together” or “Could I explain my reasons as we work together on this.” This will open the door to discuss the issue at hand and, more importantly, connect with your child.

Arguing is normal. It is not about you. It is an opportunity to connect with your children while learning more about them and their development. So, do NOT simply argue back. Listen. Learn. And work together.

Your Child Learns Best When

We all want our children to learn life skills. A study published in Nature Human Behavior [August, 2020] reveals a great way to help our children learn those life skills quickly. In this study, participants were asked to choose one of two symbols on a computer screen. Some symbols resulted in a cash reward at the end of the exercise while other symbols took the cash reward away (punishment). The initial step in this study involved “trial and error learning.” In this section of the study, the participants quickly learned which symbols offered the reward (receiving cash) and which offered punishment (taking away the cash reward). Interestingly, they learned from the reward symbols more than they learned from symbols that punished.

In the second part of the study, the participants made their choice and were then immediately shown which symbol gave them a reward and which resulted in a loss.  In this scenario, the participants learned equally well from reward and punishment. It seems that immediate teaching led to both reward and punishment being effective in helping the participant learn which symbol rewarded and which symbol punished.

In the final segment of this research, participants completed “forced-choice trials.” In this case the participants were told which symbol to choose, either the reward symbol or the punishment symbol. They simply chose the symbol they were instructed to choose. In these trials the participants learned much more slowly.

Consider these findings and what they can teach us as parents.

  1. Participants learned more quickly when they were able to make a choice rather than being told what to do. Our children will learn more quickly and more effectively when given a choice. We may not always like the choices they make or the consequences of those choices, but they will learn better when they are allowed to make a choice. So, if you want your children to learn well, allow them to make a choice whenever possible…and it is often possible.
  2. Participants learned more effectively in response to rewards than they did in response to punishment. Our children will also learn best in response to rewards. Rewards can range from a simple “thank you” to a trip to the toy store. The most powerful reward, however, is your attention, recognition, and time. Notice your children’s work and positive behavior. Acknowledge it. This is the most powerful reward you can offer to encourage positive behavior as well as reinforcing their learning.
  3. Punishment did help the participants learn when accompanied by teaching. There will be times in which we have to punish our children. Children learn best from punishment when it is accompanied by teaching. When your child “loses” a toy or a privilege because of some misbehavior, explain the reason for this punishment. Teach them the positive behavior you desire to replace the behavior you are punishing.

These 3 principles all come back to making choices. Children, like all people, learn best when given a choice. And, when children learn through their choices, they also grow more cooperative, competent, and motivated. They learn from the consequences more readily…and they become more engaged in learning in general. Give your children a choice and watch them learn.

Are You a Parent or a Martyr?

Are you a martyr parent? Martyr parents love their children. They want their children to succeed. But they also harbor fears. They fear their child will feel bad when they don’t succeed. They fear their child will misbehave when frustrated by a task or limit. They fear their child’s self-esteem will falter if they don’t succeed easily and quickly. They fear feeling their own pain when they witness their child’s discomfort. (Why do I have to do everything?)

All these fears make them anxious every time their child struggles, becomes frustrated, or gets upset with a limit. As a result, martyr parents do whatever they can to alleviate their child’s frustration, stress, and anger.

Rather than let their child struggle with a homework assignment or coach them in asking their teacher for help, they do the homework for them. Rather than helping their child realize they can’t do every activity they would like, the martyr parent sacrifices their time and sanity to rush them from activity to activity. Martyr parents argue with teachers to reduce the homework that stresses their child. They give up their finances to get them everything they desire rather than risk their child’s tantrum over a strong limit or a firm “no.” (Learn to give A More Powerful No for Effective Parenting.)

In the process their child never develops the coping skills needed to deal with life. They don’t learn that their choices have consequences. They don’t learn how to prioritize and decide which activities they will pursue and which they will sacrifice due to time and financial constraints. They don’t learn problem-solving skills.

Instead, they witness their parents advocating for lower expectations around homework and chores. They witness parents saving them from stressful decisions or work struggles. They listen to their parents complain about time and finances as they rush from one activity to another. The implicit message they hear is, “You can’t do this on your own. You’re not capable. You’re incompetent. But everyone will sacrifice everything to make life easier for you.” Worse, they begin to believe that message and so avoid the difficult task. They let their parent do the work. Their growth is limited and their self-confidence struggles. (Sometimes it’s best for Good Parents to Do Nothing.)

What can a parent do to break out of the role of a martyr parent?

  • Realize that doing everything for your child is hurting them and you. They will become more competent and confident as you step back and quit doing everything for them…and Give Your Child the Gift of Confidence instead.
  • Think of one area  in which you are willing to step back and let your child engage in the struggle or face the consequences. Schoolwork is often a great place to start.
  • Take on the role of coach and teacher rather than fixer. Coach your child in understanding their options and let them problem-solve. Teach them the limits and the reason for the limits. Then teach them that choices have consequences by holding them accountable to the limits. Let them face the consequences of poor grades due to incomplete homework or loss of activity due to not doing a chore. Teach them that choices have consequences.
  • Decide how much time, energy, and finances you can invest in your children’s activities. Set a reasonable limit on activities based on those resources. That may mean limiting your child to one or two extracurricular activities at any one time. Then coach your child in thinking through their schedule and helping them prioritize what they like the most. Let them decide what they will continue or stop based on the limited resources available. (Managing Your Child’s Schedule…or Seeking Balance in the Devil’s Playground.)
  • Let your children stumble. You may see this as letting them fail. It’s ok. They don’t have to succeed at everything. They can mess up. They can have a bad day. They can be ordinary in some activity or skill…AND still be healthy, happy people. In fact, teach your children that failure is information, an opportunity to learn what does not work. Teach them to use the information gained through failure to “do better next time.” Teach your child to love mistakes.

These 5 steps will free you from the stress of being a martyr parent and allow your child to grow more competent, confident, and self-assured.

A Dad’s Crucial Role Starts Early

A study published in the Social Service Review (September 2020) confirms the importance of a father’s presence in their children’s lives. This study used data collected over a 10-year period (starting at five-years-old) to explore the impact of a father’s involvement on the behaviors 15-year-old children. They discovered that a father’s social engagement with their children as well as time spent with their children led to fewer behavior problems in 15-year-olds. A father’s quality involvement in their children’s lives impacts their behavior for the better. But how much will it improve their behavior?

This study (read a review) found that increasing father involvement among families from lower socio-economic-status (SES) reduced the differences in behavior of 15-year-olds from higher SES groups. Specifically, a father’s involvement with his children reduced the gap between lower and higher SES groups in behaviors like aggression, depression, and delinquency by 30-50% in children who did not live with their fathers. Their involvement reduced that same gap by 80% for those children who lived with their fathers. Even more powerful, this study suggests that a father’s active presence in his children’s early life has a significant long-term impact on their adolescent behavior.

Interestingly, cash support did not have this significant of an effect on adolescent behavior. Children need hands-on, time invested, social engagement of fathers to really make the behavioral difference we want, not cash. (Father’s still need to support their children financially. Children need the financial means to meet daily needs. But a father’s active involvement in their lives can impact their behavior beyond what simply throwing cash their way does.)

Fathers, your involvement is crucial, pivotal to your child’s future. Get involved. Experience the joy of engaging your child today and you will experience the joy of a relationship with them for a lifetime.

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.

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.

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.

Gifts, Experiences, & Your Child’s Happiness

We all know it’s true…so why do we do it? We know we can’t by our children’s happiness with material goods & gifts, but we try. Our children look upset and we buy them something to “lift their spirits.” We feel guilty because they seem so angry and disappointed after we discipline them, so we assuage our guilt and their anger with a gift. We hope it will make them happy. But a recent study demonstrates that giving gifts does not increase our children’s happiness. Well, sort of….

Specifically, this study demonstrated that children over 12-years-old derive more happiness from experiences than from material things. In other words, our children over 12-years-old are going to experience more happiness if we do something fun with them than if we give them a gift.

Children between the ages of 3- and 12-years-old, on the other hand, did derive more happiness from material things than experiences. But there is a caveat. This age group still loves experiences (just consider the joy of Chuckie Cheese, amusement parks, and trampoline parks). Developmentally, however, they need a physical reminder to jump start their remembrance of the experience and so experience the happiness it gave them. In other words, experiences provide an enduring happiness for children between 3- and 12-years-old as well…IF they have a picture or a small token to remind them of the experience. For children over 12-years-old, these reminders are not necessary. They simply find more joy in the experience than in the possession (see The ESSENCE of Adolescence & Love Your Teen’s Risky Behavior for More).

All this being said, our children will find greater happiness when they enjoy experiences with us. While you enjoy the experience, take a picture or two. Buy a souvenir. Talk about the experience and replay the happiness often (Learn How to Give Your Children the Memories of a Lifetime). Do this and children of all ages (0 to 99-years-old) will experience greater happiness.

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