Archive for Family Shepherds

A Simple Act to Enhance Your Children’s Memory

Neuroscientists from the University of Geneva recently published a study demonstrating an interesting way to improve memory. It will work for your children, your teens, and even you! The way to enhance your memory is as simple as getting physical. That’s right. Put down the remote. Turn off the Xbox. Get off the couch and get moving.

In the case of this particular study, participants attempted to learn a motor sequence (like typing) after spending 30 minutes of moderate cycling or after 15 minutes of intense cycling or after a period of rest. The participants who participated in the intense exercise learned the motor sequence more quickly. They memorized the motor sequence more easily than those who rested or exercised moderately.

You might be thinking, “I don’t need to learn to type faster. I don’t need to learn any motor activity right now.” Maybe so. (Although it may help you memorize the sequence of the video game or the password you ‘punch in’ to various devices.)  Still, a previous study showed that exercise at a moderate level of intensity enhanced associative memory. Associative memory is the ability to learn and remember relationship between items. For instance, learning to associate a name with a person, a label for an object, or a smell with a food.  It can help you remember the which capitals go with which states or what symbols have what meanings in math or science. You get the idea. Associative memory can help your children with academic work.

So, if you child is struggling to do their homework, take a break and go outside. Go on a quick bike ride. Play some catch. Go for a jog. Take a swim. Wrestle. Play some one-on-one basketball. Then return to the homework. It might just help them learn it quicker and better!

How to Give Your Children the Memories of a Lifetime

Memories help shape our identity. They reveal our priorities and impact how we view the world around us. As parents, we want our children to have wonderful memories that support their happiness, resilience, and maturity. With that in mind, here are two principles you can implement to help your children recall their greatest memories.

  • We remember best those times and moments that gave us the greatest reward.  Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about creating flashy and spectacular memories. I’m talking about creating the most rewarding memories. What do our children find most rewarding? Our time and attention.  The greatest reward our children desire is to have enough of our time and attention to connect with us on a deep level. Their greatest memories will be of those times they spend with people, times in which they interacted and connected with others. Give your children your time and attention so they will have a multitude of wonderful memories in which they had your full attention for long enough to really connect…joyful times of connection.
  • We remember best those experiences that we recall and relive often. Each time we recall a memory, we strengthen the neural activity that keeps it strong. We solidify its formation in our brain. In other words, talking about the wonderful times we experience with our family strengthens our memories of these wonderful times. Tell the stories of the “amazing catch” or the “time it poured while we were camping.” Laugh again at that funny experience with the cat. Recall the awe of watching the sunset or the awful smell of the monkeys at the zoo. Talk about it. Reflect on the emotions experienced. Recall the sensations stimulated. Relive those moments of love, connection, and joy. The more you do, the stronger the memory will grow.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? Just spend time connecting with your children over fun, joyous experiences and then talk about those experiences. It really isn’t hard. But it will give your children the memories of a lifetime, memories on which to build a life of joy.

Your Marriage & Teen Cyberbullying

Cell phones and social media have become common place for our teens. Although social media can serve a positive purpose, it also comes with multiple challenges. One challenge relates to cyberbullying, or online behavior involving harassment, insults, threats, or the spreading of rumors. Over half the teen’s in the U.S. have experienced cyberbullying. If you have two teens in your home, there is a good chance that at least one of them has experienced cyberbullying. That’s the bad news. The good news? You can help reduce the risk that your teen will engage in cyberbullying and become a cyberbully by focusing on one particular relationship, your relationship with your spouse!

A study published this year (2020) in the International Journal of Bullying Prevention suggests that your relationship with your spouse may impact whether your teen engages in cyberbullying. This study utilized data from the World Health Organization’s Health Behavior in School-Aged Children Survey. Specifically, they looked at data from 12,642 pre-teens and teens (age 11 to 15 years) surveyed in 2009-2010. These teens were asked about their bullying behaviors and their perceptions of certain characteristics of their family, characteristics like relationship quality and investment. Questions included whether parents were loving. The study revealed that those who said their parents were “almost never” loving were 6 times more likely to engage in high levels of cyberbullying than those who said their parents were “almost always” loving. In other words, those teens who perceived their parents as loving were less likely to engage in cyberbullying. So, if you want to contribute to less cyberbullying and reduce the risk of your child becoming a cyberbully, let your teen see a loving relationship between you and your spouse. Here are some hints to keep your relationship with your spouse strong and loving.

  • Spend time with your spouse. Your children need to see you enjoying time with your spouse. Sit together when watching TV. Go for walks together. Enjoy a date night. Laugh together.
  • Show your spouse physical affection. Your children may be grossed out when you share a hug or a kiss, but they will know you love one another. Hold hands. Sit arm in arm. Share physical affection.
  • Express gratitude. Make it a habit to thank your spouse for things they do for the family, for the children, for the home, for you. Thank them for earning money to support the family. Thank them for cleaning the kitchen, making the bed, doing the laundry, cooking dinner. There are a thousand things a day for which you can thank your spouse. Express gratitude.
  • Praise your spouse in your children’s presence. Recognize when your spouse does something well and acknowledge it verbally. Compliment them on how nice they look. Acknowledge their hair cut. Let them know you think they are a good cook, a hard worker, a sensitive and considerate friend. Admire your spouse’s positive qualities in the presence of your teens.
  • Work together around the house. Let your children and teens know that you and your spouse are a teen. You both contribute to the household chores and tasks. You help each other out. You and your spouse are a team caring for your home and family.
  • Flirt with your spouse. I know, your children and teens will be totally grossed out by this but do a little flirting anyway. Let them see how much you truly adore your spouse.

These behaviors will communicate the love you and your spouse share. Your teens will hear it loud and clear. And, even more, they will reduce the risk of your teen engaging in cyberbullying.

Dad’s Superpower & Children’s Self-Control

Fathers have a superpower, a superpower that contributes to their children’s emotional future. What is this superpower? Play! Yes, play. Researchers at Cambridge University and the Lego Foundation uncovered this superpower in a review they completed of 78 studies. Each study examined the impact of fathers playing with their children (zero to three-years-old). The results were published in the Developmental Review in September, 2020. Let me share two of the findings from this review.

  1. Father-child play tended to be more physical than mother-child play. Fathers were hands on. They liked to pick up their infants and engage in rough and tumble play with their toddlers. They enjoyed playing chase and wrestling, swinging, and bouncing.
  2. Father-child play improved emotional and behavioral outcomes. Specifically, more father-child play was associated with less hyperactivity and fewer behavioral problems in school. More play with fathers contributed to the children exhibiting a better ability to control their aggression. The children also exhibited fewer emotional or physical outbursts during disagreements at school.

It  seems that physical play with dad helped children develop better emotional and behavioral self-regulation. The authors believe this improved self-regulation occurs in at least three ways.

  • During the rough and tumble play, fathers model self-regulation by controlling their own strength, actions, and words. Children also control their own strength, actions, and words to avoid “hurting” their dad. Of course, seeing self-regulation modeled and engaging in self-regulation themselves is a wonderful practice in self-control.
  • During rough and tumble play, a father or child may experience an accidental minor hurt (a foot gets stepped on, a ball bounces the wrong way and smacks someone in the face). When such an accident occurs, that play stops momentarily to make sure everyone is OK. Then the fun continues. Both have survived the minor accident. Both have learned to better control themselves to avoid similar hurts in the future.
  • During father-child rough and tumble play, children may also experience times in which they “get carried away” and Dad must slow the play down. Their children follow suit, learning to better regulate their behavior and emotions.

This all adds up to children who learn better emotional and behavioral regulation from their Dad’s superpower, play! Now get out their Dad and put that superpower to use. Play with your child today!

That Glorious Fight with Your Teen

If you have a teen, you will likely have some conflict with them. You may even get into an argument or two…and that’s great news! Why? Because the way in which you repair the relationship with your teen is an opportunity for everyone to grow “strong in the force” of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to reflect on their own thoughts, feelings, and actions combined with an awareness of other people’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Your efforts to reconnect and repair the relationship with your teen following a conflict provides them with a “master class” in emotional intelligence. (For more on emotional intelligence read The Wings on Which Your Children Soar.)

Only you can teach this class because only you meet the required qualifications—someone with whom your teen feels secure, someone with whom your teen has a loving relationship, someone who is motivated to maintain a relationship with your teen through thick and thin. Who else but you, their parent, meets these criteria? So, prepare yourself to lead your teen in a “master class” in emotional intelligence.

As the teacher of your teen’s “master class” in emotional intelligence, what is the lesson plan? Here is a brief outline.

  • Following the conflict, allow at least twenty minutes for all parties (you and your teen) to calm down.
  • Approach your teen calmly and acknowledge your teen’s emotions. Offer understanding of their emotions and a label for them. Doing this informs them that emotions are beneficial. You understand and accept their emotion. In doing so you model one aspect of emotional intelligence—the ability to be aware of and understanding of another person’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.  You also encourage them to reflect on their own thoughts and emotions, another aspect of emotional intelligence.
  • Apologize for any inappropriate actions or statements on your part. As part of the apology, explain your own emotions. Do not blame your teen for your emotions. Take responsibility for those emotions but voice an awareness of your own emotions. In doing so you model the aspect of emotional intelligence involved in reflecting on your own thoughts and emotions. You also teach your teen to be aware of other people’s thoughts and emotions, in this case yours.
  • Allow time to calmly discuss each of these two bullets. Then you can discuss solutions to avoid future conflict. Those solutions may involve limits and boundaries for both of you. Fortunately, the “master class” in emotional intelligence will help you both respect the boundaries and limits that make up the solution.

Next time you find yourself in conflict with your teen, do not beat yourself up. Instead, be glad you for the opportunity to humble yourself, accept responsibility for your part in the conflict, and lead a “master class” in emotional intelligence. Teach it well in your actions and your words.

Baseball Reveals the Power of Dad

I read an interesting article that was initially published in 2016. It described the findings of “Called Out at Home” from the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. In this study, I learned about the surprising increase of African American plays in Major League Baseball (MLB) between 1947 (when Jackie Robison became the first African American in the Major Baseball League) and 1981 when 18% of the players were African American (which was higher than the percentage of African Americans in the general public). However, the percentage of African American players declined to 7% through the 1980’s and 1990’s. Why did this drastic decrease occur? That’s the questions asked in this study.

To answer that question, the researchers looked at the birth data of about 85,000 college and professional baseball players. They sampled over 600 current Major League Baseball players and researched their families’ structure. They discovered something interesting.

  • 80% of the African American professional players came from a home in which their father was present (compared to 40% of African Americans in the general population).
  • Children who live with their father had about a 25% greater likelihood of playing baseball than those who lived in a home without a father. More specifically, 20% of those living with a father played baseball compared to only 16% of those living without a father.
  • While African American players in MLB declined, players from Dominican Republic and Venezuela increased…and many of these plyers had grown up in poor communities. This suggests that the decrease in African American MLB players was not determined by money or socioeconomic status alone.
  • As an aside, the researchers also discovered that high school students living with their fathers were actually less likely to play basketball than students without a father in the home.

As the authors of the study considered these findings, they suggest that some sports require a great deal of support and finances, like football, hockey, and lacrosse.

Other sports require little support or finances, like basketball and track. Kids can excel by practicing alone or with a group of peers in a “pick-up” game at the park.

Baseball falls in between these two extremes. In baseball you need one other committed person, a ball, a bat, and a glove (preferably two). The authors make the case that the best person to be the committed person in the case of baseball is a father!

Whether a father is in the home or not may not be the only factor explaining the decline in African American players in the MLB, but it does point to the power of a Dad. I’m not suggesting that a child can become a professional ball player simply because he or she has a dad at home either. But this research supports the idea that having a father at home helps a child thrive. Whether it be in the sports their children choose or the life choices their children make, a father makes a powerful difference. So, get your child and grab a ball and glove. Go outside and play some catch. After all, the real goal of playing catch is not just learning to catch and throw a ball. The real goal is to develop a relationship, impart life, and promote values of love and compassion.

**After I published this blog, a friend told me about another African American player who played in the Major Leagues 6 decades before Jackie Robinsons. Read the fascinating story of Moses Fleetwood Walker here. And thank you for correcting me and helping me grow.

What Values Do You Prioritize in Your Family?

The conflict and chaos in the world today have brought priorities and values into the limelight. Whether you agree with the values and priorities portrayed by various groups and leaders or not, we are all forced to stop and reflect. What priorities do I want to pass on to my children? What values do I want them to learn? How do I model those priorities and values in my daily life? And how do I teach them to my children? Those are tough questions that require reflection and thought. Let me share some of the priorities and values I deem important for family. Wait…on second thought, my daughters are young adults now. Let me ask them what priorities and values they learned from my wife and me. Perhaps their answers will shed light on our practical values rather than my “philosophical ideals.” So, I asked them, “What priorities and values did you learn from us?” Their response?

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. What priorities and values would you add to the list? What priorities and values do you want your children to learn from you? How do you model them for your children to see?

Helping Your Child Become Likeable: A Barrel of Fun

Children love to have fun…and having fun is no laughing matter. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Personality (2020) suggests that fun is one of three traits (prosocial behavior, leadership, and fun) shown to predict changes in a child’s “likeability and popularity” between the ages of nine and twelve years. This study, completed in Florida and Colombia, focused on fun. By letting peers nominate who was “likeable” and what made them likable, they discovered that children perceived by others as fun experienced an increase in the number of classmates who liked them over a two-month period. The perception of fun remained a key factor of “likeability” even after controlling for the influence of prosocial behavior, leadership, physical attractiveness, fairness, athletic ability, disruptiveness, and aggression. In other words, fun influenced likability.

Perhaps that’s not too surprising. After all, who doesn’t enjoy being around someone who is fun? But maybe we can learn something important for our families. Instilling a sense of fun into our family life may help our children learn to be fun. We often focus on teaching our children academics, sports, and manners. We teach them to listen and behave appropriately. Sometimes we become so “serious” about their academics, sports, music, and manners that we forget to teach them to have fun. And being fun is no laughing matter. How can we teach our children to have fun?

  • Model having fun. Let them see you engaging in activities and having fun. Even if you engage in a competitive sport, let them see how fun it is.
  • Laugh. Laugh at yourself. Laugh at a joke. Laugh at a funny show on TV. Laugh with your children and laugh as a family. Enjoy the moment and laugh. Teach your family to laugh because Laughter is No Laughing Matter for Families.
  • Encourage your children to do their best in their chosen activity. However, never let them lose sight of fun in that activity as well. Those who have fun are the same ones who do their best. Teach them to enjoy playing their sport or their instrument. Teach them to have fun in the activities they choose.
  • Encourage creativity. Whatever creative activities you enjoy—music, storytelling, art, photography, dance—whatever mode you may choose, enjoy creativity. (Discover Your Inner Musician is one way to encourage creativity.)
  • Play games together and make them fun. You can play anything from “Salad Bowl” to badminton. It doesn’t matter what you play. Just play and have fun. After all, it’s all fun and games…until it’s something more.
  • Tell a joke or two…or three or more. Make funny stories and jokes part of your family heritage. (My favorite joke, of course, is The Infamous Dad Joke.)

I’m sure there are more ways to teach your children to have fun. What are ways you encourage your children and your family to have fun? Don’t hold back. Share them below so we can all join in the fun and watch our children reap the benefits of learning to be fun.

4 Questions of “When” for Childhood Independence

We all want our children to grow into mature, independent adults. In fact, children benefit when their parents encourage independence. Whether doing significant chores in the home, in the yard, or in the community, children grow more confident and competent when they engage in independent, meaningful tasks. (Read Chores: The Gift of Significance for more.) But, how can a parent know which tasks their child can complete on their own? And how can a parent move their children toward greater independence in general? Perhaps answering a few questions can help parents find the answers to these questions.

First, is your child developmentally ready for this task? If they do not have the developmental ability to do the task, do not expect them to do it. Make sure any task you ask of your child is developmentally appropriate for them. Asking a child to do a task for which they are not developmentally ready to do dishonors them. It will only create self-doubt and frustration in your child that will interfere with their learning and later independence. If they are not developmentally prepared and able to do a task, do it for them.

Second, does your child know how to do the task on their own already? Is it a task they know how to do and have the ability to do? If so, ask them to do it. For instance, if they can tie their shoes, let them. Of course, the examples will change as the child grows older. Can they sweep the floor, do some laundry, make a bed? Let them do it.

Third, if your child cannot do the task on their own ask yourself, “Can they do part of the task?” Perhaps they cannot cook dinner, but they can cut up vegetables. Maybe they cannot run the lawn mower, but they can pull weeds in the flower garden. Even if they cannot wash clothes, they might have the ability and knowledge to fold the clean clothes. Whatever part of an overall task they have the ability to do, encourage them to help with that part.

Finally, if your child cannot do the task on their own already, ask: can they do it with simple instructions or help? If so, do it with them. As you complete the task with your child, you can teach them how to do it independently. Let your child help with the laundry, setting the table, preparing meals, cleaning the house, doing yardwork…. As you work together, you can teach them how to do the task well and prepare them for doing it independently when necessary. As an added bonus you get to talk and build your relationship with your child while you work together.

We all want our children to grow into independent adults. They can only do so if we begin to teach them while they are home. These four questions can help you teach your children to become more independent at a pace appropriate to their developmental abilities. (For more on how meaningful tasks benefit children while moving them toward independence, read Dear Children, The Real Reason I Make You Do Chores.)

Succeeding in School: On-Line OR In Person

The school year has started. Well, sort of…I mean, it is different. Some of our children are in school part of the week and on-line part of the week. Others are on-line all the time. No one seems sure about school next month…in person or on-line? With all this in mind, how can we support our children in having the most productive, successful school year possible? Here are a few suggestions.

  • First, provide a space in your home for schoolwork. In fact, make this space specific to schoolwork.  Whether it be a desk or a space at the dining room table, having a space set apart for schoolwork will help your children focus. Designate this space for schoolwork only–no social media use or gaming from this spot. Encourage your children to get up and walk away from this designated area when they engage social media or simply need to take a break. This space is designated for schoolwork only. This will help your children focus; and, it will inform others in the family to “not disturb, schoolwork in progress.”
  • Second, encourage working on one task at a time. Set up your children’s work areas so they are not distracted by other screens, TV’s, people, or cellphones (including their own). Turn on the “do not disturb” on their phone and computer to help them focus. Teach them to focus on one class at a time. Do not disturb them with other household tasks during school time. Learning to focus on one task at a time is an important skill leading to success. Multitasking is ineffective and inefficient.  So, set up their “on-line school environment” to encourage a single focus on school.
  • Third, establish a healthy sleep schedule. Our children still need a healthy night’s rest to function well in school, even when they are “doing school” from home. A good night’s rest improves mood, concentration, and ability to learn. Set up the routines that will allow your children to get the sleep they need. Their academic achievement will thank you for it. (Learn about Your Teen & the Importance of Sleep and The Enemy of Teen Sleep)
  • Fourth, start the day off with positive interactions to promote a positive mood. Negative emotions take up space in our mind and interfere with concentration and learning. There is enough going on in the world that threatens to rob our children of a spacious mind for learning. Make your home a haven in which they can experience positive emotions that support positive spaces in the mind for learning. (Prime Your Children for a Good School Day)
  • Fifth, foster their motivation to learn. I believe this represents one of the great challenges of on-line learning. How can you foster your children’s internal motivation to “do school”? Having our children at home increases the risk that we, as parents, might step in to “help out” and accidently “take over.”  Resists the urge to step in. Promote their independence instead. Ask them about their plan to complete homework, prepare for school, or complete an assignment rather than planning it for them. Allow them to experience their own failures rather than bailing them out. Let them experience their own successes rather than doing the nitty gritty for them. Foster their independence and you foster their motivation to learn. (Read 3 Tips to Motivate Your Child to learn more about instilling internal motivation.)
  • Sixth, acknowledge their effort. Our children need to know that we recognize their hard work, especially in these times of uncertainty. Rather than focusing on the final grade, acknowledge their effort. This will help build a growth mindset that will benefit them for a lifetime.

These six tips can help make this school year a productive, successful year of learning whether they “do school” on-line, in person, or both.

« Older Entries