Archive for Family Shepherds

What Every Mother Already Knew

I love looking at research, especially research about families and mental health. But sometimes the results seem so obvious.  For instance, a study published in 2020 confirmed something every mother already knows. The study had two parts: a lab study of 147 participants and community daily-diary study involving 202 participants. Both parts of this study revealed what mothers already knew—lack of sleep amplifies anger. More specifically, decreasing a person’s amount of sleep by 2 to 4 hours a night for two nights decreased their ability to adapt to frustrating conditions and increased the likelihood they would react with anger. And who doesn’t have to adapt to frustrations on daily basis? So, lack of sleep puts us all at risk, parent and child alike. In other words, less sleep increases anger. What mother didn’t already know that?

But these results do raise a few other important questions. First, how much sleep does a person
need?  Sleep experts recommended that:

  • Those 6-13 years old need 9-11 hours of sleep per night.
  • Those 14-12 years old need 8-10 hours of sleep per night.
  • Those 16-25 years old need 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
  • Those over 25-years-old need 7-9 hours of sleep per night as well.

Second, what can a parent do to help themselves and their child get enough sleep? Here are 4 tips to that can help you create good sleep environment for you and your family. Remember, by building a good pattern of sleep, you are proactively reducing anger in your family.

  • Establish a consistent bedtime and bedtime routine. Start the bedtime routine 30-60 minutes before bedtime. A bedtime routine might include personal hygiene activities. It might also include setting out clothes for the morning. A bedtime definitely needs to include quiet time to connect with one another, a parent with a child, a spouse with their partner. You can do this through reading a book together, talking about the day, sharing things for which you are grateful, or offering support around any struggles of the day. Overall, a good bedtime routine offers one of the best times to connect with your child and spouse. So get your child on the sleepy train with a good bedtime routine.
  • Make sure the bedroom is dark, quiet, and comfortable. That may mean no TV in the bedroom (link) and no social media in the bedroom after bedtime. It will involve a comfortable temperature. For children, it may include stuffed animals or blankets that promote a sense of safety. Work to create a comfortable environment in the bedroom, an environment that is safe and promotes rest. 
  • Do not use electronic devices for an hour before bed. Electronic devices tend to interfere with sleep, either through the blue light they emit or through the outright stimulation of peer drama, gaming, or exciting shows. So, turn off devices once you start the bedtime routine. Put on some enjoyable music instead.
  • Do not eat large meals too close to bedtime and avoid caffeinated drinks close to bedtime. Both tend to interfere with quality sleep.

Do everything you can to promote quality sleep for your child and yourself. Doing so will help increase everyone’s ability to manage frustration and anger. It also has many other physical and mental health benefits (see also . And, it contributes to an overall happier, healthier family.

Is Free Play REALLY Better for Kids?

What happens when children get to play together without interference from adults?  Amazing things happen…like problem solving, creativity, independence, and learning limits (Read Make Your Child “a Head Taller Than Himself”). I’m not just making this up either. A recent study published in the School Community Journal explored the impact of children’s participation in recess and The Let Grow Play Club.  Study participants included 460 Kindergarten through fifth graders attending an elementary school in Long Island, NY. One hundred of these students were chosen to participate in The Play Club for one hour every week while the rest participated in regular school recess (40-minutes long). Results were obtained through observation, student interviews, and teacher interviews. What were the results? Good question.

In student interviews, the students actually noted that the Play Club helped them “stay focused” during school, increased their energy level and mood, and gave them the opportunity to socialize and make more friends.

Teacher interviews suggested that students who engaged in the Play Club were better able to focus and concentrate during school. Teachers also noted an improvement in social skills like negotiation and problem-solving without adult intervention. They were better able to make adjustments to meet challenges that naturally arise during play. Overall, they exhibited greater creativity.

Observations supported the interviews, revealing the same results.

You may be thinking, “But I’m not a teacher. I’m a parent. What does this have to do with me and our home?”  Well, play can have the same positive benefits in the home setting that it has in the school setting. If you want to give it a try, encourage your kids to go outside and play with their friends. If they have trouble doing so, help them come up with ideas. If they still have trouble, you might try the Let Grow Independence Kit and involve the neighbors in developing your children’s free play in the community. In the Let Grow Independence Kit, children can choose activities to do in their home. They will learn new things and have fun. In fact, a random sampling of kids and parents who have used the Let Grow Independence Kit revealed a “flourishing of idiosyncratic interests the kids would never have had the opportunity to pursue otherwise.” In other words, you might just be surprised at how much your children learn through play and what they develop an interest in during play. But don’t take my word for it. Let the children play…and watch what happens.

6 Rituals for a Healthier Family

Family rituals provide you and your children with a sense of security, identity, and belonging. They build stronger family relationships through the creation of shared memories and the commitment of time spent together. (See Cheat Codes for Dads: Shared Rituals) With those benefits in mind, here are 6 rituals every family will enjoy.

  • Family Meals are a tremendous ritual of connection and security. Really, everything I needed to know I learned at dinner. Although Family meals are a great ritual to practice daily, you can shoot for 3 to 5 family meals a week if your schedule doesn’t allow for a daily family meal. Involve the whole family in the meal process. Whether they help with food preparation, setting the table, or cleaning up, everyone can help in some way. Use the whole mealtime to talk, share about your day, get to know one another more deeply, and laugh. Use the time to grow closer to one another.
  • Days of Honor also represent a great opportunity to create rituals to celebrate family. Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Children’s Day, birthdays, anniversaries…make each one special with activities, favorite foods, and even a few gifts to honor the special people in your family.
  • A Biannual Mommy/Daddy Night. Twice a year let each child spend the evening and night with either “Mommy” or “Daddy.” Take turns so each child gets a special night with each parent. Plan a special meal, watch a movie, enjoy an activity of your child’s choosing. Whatever you and your child choose to do, enjoy this special time of parent-child bonding.
  • Celebrating an International Day can also create a wonderful family ritual. Pick three or four countries you want to learn about over the next year. Take time to learn a little bit about each country. Then celebrate an International Day in honor of that country. Eat foods from that country. Listen to music from that country. Talk about the country. Even play games common to that country.
  • Heritage Day. In a similar fashion, learn about the country from which your family has descended. Learn about the heritage of that country. Then celebrate the country and traditions of your “origins” on a special Heritage Day.
  • A Walk in the Woods. Make it a weekly or monthly ritual to take a family walk in the woods or through nearby park. Not only will you grow closer as a family, but you will also reap the physical and emotional benefits of nature as well.

Of course, there are many more rituals you could enjoy. I encourage every family to celebrate holiday rituals, a bedtime ritual, a morning ritual, a parting ritual, a “reunite-at-the-end-of-the-day-ritual”…. The possibilities are endless. But each one presents the opportunity for a healthier, happier family.

What are your favorite family rituals? Which new ones might you like to try?

Healthy Family Pandemic Tips

The pandemic lingers on. Even as vaccines become more readily available, cases rise and fall. Schools go in-person only to return to hybrid model before going back to in-person with every fluctuation in COVID cases. News of “variants,” “surges,” and “waves” keep us all vigilant. On top of it all, many of us are simply exhausted after having already spent a year struggling with pandemic related changes. Our children in particular struggle with this current environment of constant change and lack  of predictability. They may respond by engaging in risky behaviors. Or they may, like adults, experience an increase in depression or anxiety. Fortunately, we are not powerless in this situation. We can help each one of our family members survive this time. We can encourage and even assist one another in developing healthy coping skills through these turbulent times. Here are five suggestions to begin.

  1. Encouraging healthy coping during the current pandemic and its related stressors begins with conversation. Acknowledge your children’s current struggles. Talk about the struggles and frustrations. Speak about the boredom. Discuss the loneliness, the fears, and the losses related to the pandemic. Remember, everything is more manageable when we can talk about it with someone, and we can talk about anything within our families.
  2. Create healthy schedules. The pandemic has robbed us of the typical structures that provide predictable schedules. School, work, churches, community groups—they have all changed, closed, or gone online. Without a predictable schedule we tend to feel insecure. This is especially true for our children. Creating a schedule in your home can provide the predictability and security under which our children thrive. Ironically, a routine and schedule can add meaning and purpose to our lives and our children’s lives as well. Be sure to include mealtimes, school time, play time, and even game time and free time in your schedule.
  3. Build daily routines of connection into your family schedule. Online school is lonely. Online work provides less interaction. But humans are social creatures. We need social connection just like we need air to breath. Build daily opportunities for your children to connect with you throughout the day. This may involve mealtimes, play time, or free time. It may simply mean pulling up a chair to “check in” with your child or teen.
  4. Our children also need to socialize with peers. Parents cannot provide all their children’s social needs. Children and teens need peer interaction. So, create opportunities for your children to socialize with other children. Plan a time for your child to get together with their one or two of their peers at a park. Allow your children invite a friend over to play in your yard. Let your children go for a walk or a bike ride together. Any of these activities provide a safe way for our children to socialize. You can also set up opportunities for your children to interact with one another through zoom, face time, or some other social app.
  5. Although social media provides a way to build social connection, a parent also needs to monitor social media use to assure appropriate usage. Determine how you will monitor social media consumption in your house. Possible ideas include utilizing a common area to charge phones overnight, shared passwords to allow periodic review of incoming media, and tech-free times (such as dinner). Also, don’t let your children get caught up in FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) because everyone looks like they’re having so much fun without me on social media. Talk about the false images portrayed on social media as we all post our happy times and best face.

These five ideas can help you keep your family emotionally healthy during the pandemic. What other ideas do you have?

What Our Children Really Need

One goal all parents share is the goal of raising healthy children. But that goal includes more than just physical health. We also want to raise emotionally healthy children. A large study out of Johns Hopkins University (published in 2019) found positive childhood experiences promoted the development of emotionally healthy adults…just like we want. Best of all, you can provide these positive childhood experiences in your family. You can also help bring other adults into your child’s life to provide even more. Here are the positive experiences the researchers found fundamental to our children and some ways you can provide them in your home.

  1. Children need the opportunity and ability to talk to family members about feelings. Learn to accept your children’s feelings, their emotions. Label their emotions so they can build a strong vocabulary for emotions. Value your children enough to listen to their emotions and respond to them with empathy and understanding before problem-solving. Use emotions as a starting point to learn about your child’s priorities and sensitivities.
  2. Children need to feel safe and protected by the adults in their home. Creating an environment in which the healthy expression of emotions is acceptable will go a long way in creating this safe environment. Obviously, assuring our children’s basic needs for food and shelter are met will also help them feel safe and protected. Similarly, forbidding verbal and physical violence while encouraging loving communication and politeness promotes safety. Your children will also feel safe and protected when you allow them to witness and experience healthy, positive physical affection. (Learn the Heartbeat of a Hug.) Make sure they witness the resolution of disagreements as well. All this will help them feel safe and protected by the adults in your home.
  3. Children need adults who take a genuine interest in their lives. Show your children their importance to you by learning about their interests. Talk about their interests. Invest in their interests. Ask about their activities and their plans. Learn about their dreams and invest in their dreams. Help them with projects and homework. Join them in an activity of their choosing. Show them through your words and your actions that you are interested in them, that you delight in them.
  4. Children need someone in their corner. We all want someone who is in our corner, someone who has our back. Advocate for your child. Help them face and overcome obstacles. Stand by them in the midst of stress or conflict. Support them in resolving conflicts they can resolve on their own and step in to help them resolve those conflicts that become to intense for them to manage at their developmental level. Believe them when they tell you something…and, even more, believe IN them.
  5. Children need to participate in community traditions. Get involved with your child in community. Community may include your neighborhood, your church, and scouting organizations as well as clubs, athletics, or special interest organizations. Each of these groups will have activities and traditions in which you and your child can become involved. Get involved.
  6. Children need to feel connected at school and supported by friends. Our children will feel more connected at school when we have a good relationship with school. So, attend parent-teacher conferences. Go to the concerts and the plays, volunteer to help at school events. Get to know the teachers. The more connected you are to the school, the more connected your child will become as well…and the more likely they will succeed.

In all these ways, you and your home can provide positive childhood experiences to your children. But there is one more way to provide your children with an abundance of positive childhood experiences. Involve other positive caring adults in the fabric and life of your child and family. This may include parents of your children’s friends, ministers, coaches, teachers, or community and club leaders. The more caring adults sharing a healthy involvement in your child’s life, the better. It will allow your child multiple positive childhood experiences to shape their lives in resilience and opportunity. So, build a village of caring adults around your child.

Don’t Catch Depression From This Pandemic

Depression has increased dramatically during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic studies suggested 11% of the population reported enough symptoms to meet the criteria for a diagnosis of depression. In December of 2020, during the pandemic, 42% reported enough symptoms of depression to reach a diagnosis (COVID’s Mental Health Toll). In fact, the World Health Organization noted depression as the leading cause of disability in 2020. This increase in diagnosable symptoms is shocking, but not surprising. In fact, a study published in August of 2020 and drawing information from a database of over 100,000 participants revealed social connection as the strongest protective factor against depression. So, it comes as no surprise that after a year of needing social distancing and “shelter-in-place” protocols that depression has increased. The question is: how can we connect socially while maintaining a level of physical safety? After all, our emotional lives depend on social connection, the frequency of confiding in one another, and the opportunity to visit with family and friends. How can we help our families connect socially? Here are just two ideas.

  • Consider each family member’s interests and look for groups related to those interests. This may include sports, music, scouting, science, or other clubs. Find out how various groups are encouraging involvement during this time. They may meet over zoom. Maybe they have small groups meeting while necessary precautions. You may also participate in your faith community. Once again, they may meet over zoom or in small groups with necessary precautions.
  • Call a friend and talk…or zoom. Although not as personal as face-to-face contact, talking on the phone or zooming is the next best thing to face-to-face contact. So, connect via phone or zoom rather than text. You may also meet a friend at the park for a walk or sit in an outdoor setting to talk. You might even meet a friend or two at a restaurant that has outdoor seating or is maintaining necessary safety precautions. You can also enjoy a picnic or simply watching your children with a friend in the back yard.

These represent only two ideas for maintaining social connection during this time. Doing so takes some effort but will bring a greater sense of peace and happiness to you and your family.

What are your ideas for maintaining social connection during the pandemic? What have you and your family done?

A Father’s Superpower

Every father has a superpower. No, he cannot leap over tall buildings in a single bound, run faster than a speeding locomotive, or fly through the sky like a plane. Still, every father has this unique superpower. Actually, this superpower is more practical and more powerful than those displayed in the movies. A father’s superpower is much more important than those superpowers. A study published in 2020 revealed this superpower after analyzing data collected on 5,000 children…and now we need to encourage fathers to use it. What is this superpower?

The study revealed that a father’s involvement in his children’s lives between the ages of 5 to 15 years was a superpower. It’s true. This superpower saved his children from the villains of behavioral and emotional problems as they matured. The superpower of involvement included participating in activities like feeding his children, playing with his children, reading to his children, and helping his children with homework. Involvement also included providing noncash items like clothing, toys, food, and other necessities for his children. This superpower of involvement was more influential than mere monetary support. Monetary support is a fake superhero, an imposter trying to elicit the joys of the true superhero without the sacrifice and love, a greedy villain.

The true superpower of a father is involvement in his children’s lives. His involvement protects his children from the villains of depression, worrying, bullying, and other insidious crooks (aka, negative behaviors).

So, forget the cape (unless you really want to wear one), toss aside the mask (well, when COVID is over), and get involved in your children’s lives. Then, “Bam…,” “Boom…,” “Kablam…,” the villains are out and Dad is in the house! And, he’s enjoying a lifetime, loving relationship with his children.

A Mother’s Power to Raise Generous Children

Would you like your children to become generous, giving people? A study of 74 preschool children and their mothers suggests that mothers play an important role in helping children become generous.

In this study, 4-year-old children earned 20 tokens by engaging in a variety of activities. The children could then exchange all the tokens for a prize or donate some or all of them to children experiencing sickness or some other hardship.

In the meantime, the children’s mothers completed a survey to measure their level of compassionate love. This whole process was repeated two years later when the children were 6-years-old (only 54 of the pairs returned) and produced similar results. What did the research reveal? I’m glad you asked.

The children whose mothers showed a greater level of compassionate love exhibited greater generosity. They were more likely to donate some of their tokens to help other child in need. In addition, children who donated more tokens also exhibited a calmer physiology after sharing. This suggests a greater likelihood of good feelings. In other words, a mother’s compassionate love contributed to her child’s greater generosity and her child’s ability to self-soothe.

If that sounds like something you want for your children, start living out a compassionate love in the presence of your children today. Here are some simple ways to get started.

  • Help other people and involve your children in helping other people. Let your children witness your kindness.
  • Be available to those who need help.
  • Show kindness to your family and friends. This can be as simple as pouring a drink for your spouse or driving your child to their practices. It might also be as involved as making a meal for a friend who recently lost a loved one or helping a friend move.
  • Show kindness to strangers. Offer directions to someone who asks. Buy a meal for the homeless person on the street. Pay the bill for the person behind you in the coffee shop. Show kindness whenever you can.
  • Point out kindness that others engage in. We spend a lot of time in our society focused on the negative. We criticize, complain, and voice suspicion easily. Make it a practice to focus on the kindness of others instead. Point out other people’s acts of kindness—the times they let someone merge, the holding of a door for someone else to go through, the polite language used, the simple smile, etc.  
  • Volunteer together. Pick a favorite charity and volunteer there with your child. Volunteer at your church or a local social group (like scouts). Go to a nursing home and play board games or card games with the elderly. You might do this monthly or annually. Either way, volunteer together.

We all want our children to grow into generous, giving people. After all, they will be taking care of us in our old age. They will create the world…hopefully a world filled with generosity and kindness. Let’s start building that world today by sharing compassionate love with our children in our homes.

Gratitude, Family, & the Gift of Self-Worth

Family offers the soil in which we nurture one another’s sense of value and worth. That sounds kind of sentimental, doesn’t it? It’s also an obvious statement barely worth repeating. Nonetheless, it is true. But do you know what one major soil nutrient will contribute to your spouse’s and your children’s sense of value and worth? Well…there is more than one but this one has the power to enhance a person’s sense of worth and value more than you might imagine. In fact, it is essential in the nurturance of each family member’s mental and emotional health.  It’s time we stop overlooking it and make sure the soil of our families is rich in this nutrient. It won’t be difficult because this nutrient is easily added to your home and family. It is simple, can be added daily, and has amazing power. What is it? Gratitude. All you need to do is express gratitude and thanks. Sounds too easy to be true, doesn’t it?  However, a series of four studies shows it is true. Gratitude does nurture value and worth in your family members. Let me briefly share what these four studies revealed about the impact of gratitude.

  1. People who received thanks showed more willingness to continue helping the person who gave them thanks.  In fact, the expression of gratitude “more than doubled the likelihood that helpers would provide assistance again.”
  2. People who received thanks showed a greater willingness to help a third party after receiving thanks. They were more willing to help a person other than the one who thanked them.
  3. People who received thanks, worked longer to help the one who thanked them. They increased their productivity by more than 50%  and spent 15% more time helping.
  4. Moreover, analysis of these findings reveals that when a person receives thanks, they feel more socially valued. This increase in feeling socially valued led to their greater willingness to continue helping and to persist longer in their helping activities.

Gratitude is powerful. It enhances our family members sense of personal value…and their willingness to help others. So, if you want your family members to help more within the family, help those outside the family, and do it more often, thank them for their contributions to the home. Share gratitude. Vocalize your gratitude for all they do. They will know you value them and their help. As a result, they will help more people, more often, and with greater effort.

Your Family & the Tough Conversation

Families face tough conversations in today’s world. Whether focused on politics, your teen’s level of freedom, sexuality, or which swimsuit your children can wear, these conversations can quickly become emotionally tumultuous. Hurtful words may “slip out” and relationships can be damaged. Knowing your family’s conversational style provide a first step in making these conversations more productive.

Research on conversation styles in families has identified four categories of conversation styles in families. The styles fall along two dimensions: conversational orientation and conformity. Conversational orientation represents how much and how spontaneously families talk about multiple topics. Conformity refers to how much family members feel expected to conform to the views of one or two family members. With that in mind, let’s briefly explore each style.

  1. A laissez-faire conversation style is low in both conversational orientation and conformity. They place little value on conformity and communication. They tend to have limited conversation and share few topics. Family members can differ in opinions and each person is encouraged to make their own decisions with little input from family. As you can imagine, families using this style of conversation often lack intimate, emotional  connection. They tend to be disengaged from one another. Because of the lack of support given in decision-making, children often grow to question their ability to make decisions.
  2. A protective conversation style is high in conformity but low in conversational orientation.  Communication emphasizes obedience to parental authority and conformity. Parents see little reason for explaining the reason behind decisions and simply expect the family to conform. As a result, differences of opinion are not generally discussed. Unfortunately, positive conflict resolution and communication skills are not practiced either. So, when disagreements do naturally occur, the only way to resolve them is to conform to the authority’s decision. Once again, you can see how this limits family intimacy as well as the healthy development of self-knowledge and communication skills.
  3. A pluralistic conversational style is high in conversational orientation and low in conformity. These families have open, unrestrained conversation on a wide range of topics. Parents accept children’s opinions and decisions providing they are well supported by reason and explanation.  Conflict is addressed using positive conflict-resolution strategies and generally resolved. Family conversation is valued as is independent and autonomous thinking. This style does promote competence in communication, confidence in decision-making, and conflict resolution. However, since it is low in conformity, the family tends to be permissive, which can result in more behavioral problems. Ironically, permissiveness also tends to contribute to lower self esteem in children.
  4. Finally, a consensual conversational style is high in conversational orientation and conformity. This creates a tension between the pressure to agree and so maintain the existing hierarchy on the one hand, and open communication and exploration of ideas on the other. These families strive to balance independence and conformity, expression and understanding. Parents encourage children to voice their opinions and ideas but invest energy and time in explaining their own values, beliefs, and decisions to their children. Discussions are acceptable and encouraged but volatile conflict is generally thought of negatively. As a result, the family does model and teach problem-solving and conflict resolution skills. They also develop more intimacy and connectedness.  

The question to ask yourself as you move toward having the tough conversations is: which type of conversational style describes your family? How will that conversational style impact your approach to the topic? How does your style influence your goal? Is your current style the one you want to continue using or would you like to approach this topic differently?  Do you utilize the same style in relationship to your children as you do in relationship to your spouse? Will this conversational style change as your child matures? How?

Knowledge of your family’s conversational style and the answer to these questions will begin to help you successfully engage in the tough conversations with your family.

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