Archive for Family Shepherds

A Simple, Brief Reminder

Anxiety and depression have increased dramatically in the U.S. over the last several years. Specifically, between 2005 to 2017, anxiety and depression have increased 63% among young adults. Several contributors have been identified implying that our society will likely need to address several areas over time to bring those numbers down. That being said, you can take a simple action today that will help reduce the number of young adults struggling with anxiety and depression. It’s true. We, the adults in this world, can play a huge role in reducing the number of young adults with anxiety and/or depression.

A Columbia University study (among others) revealed the simple action you can take to reduce anxiety and depression in young adults. All you need to do is develop a warm, nurturing relationship with the children in your life. Children who have at least one positive, committed adult-child relationship are less likely to develop depression or anxiety in their life. That is amazing, isn’t it? Even more amazing, if enough adults commit to having a positive relationship with the children in their lives, we could decrease the number of young adults struggling with anxiety or depression in one generation. Take a moment now and consider the impact. Then answer these two questions.

  • Who are the children in your life?
  • What could you do to nurture a positive relationship with them over the next week?

It’s a simple, brief reminder: the power of forming a positive, healthy relationship with children can have long term benefits for their life. Make the time to enjoy your relationship with the children in your life. While you do, bask in the knowledge that your relationship is a step toward making their life better and toward changing the world.

The Problem of the “Up-Side-Down” Family

Ideally, families work from the top down. Parents provide physical and emotional security, stability, and predictability for their children. Sometimes, however, everything gets turned “up-side-down.” Whether because of parental illness, work demands, drugs, or some sort of trauma, children become the primary emotional support for their parents. Parents turn to their children to receive comfort from stresses of life rather than the children turning to their parents for comfort from life’s stresses. Parents seek their children’s approval and the children become their parent’s confidant in issues well beyond their emotional maturity.  Children in an “up-side-down” family may even find themselves the only reliable cook or housekeeper in the home. Whatever the precipitator, the overwhelmed and overtaxed parent shifts the responsibility of managing their family onto the children.

As you can imagine, this has many detrimental effects for children and their families. Children in this position are more likely to drop out of school. The resulting lack of education will contribute to greater difficulty finding employment and likely result in significantly less income. This will impact future resources available to them for accessing health care as well.

Socialization also changes for children who find themselves forced to take on too many adult responsibilities in the home. As a result, they are at greater risk of earlier sexual behavior and pregnancy, as well as a greater risk for substance abuse. They may experience a loss of trust in other people, increasing their struggle to develop healthy, intimate relationships in the future.

What can we do to help prevent families from getting turned up-side-down?

  1. Parents, begin by taking care of yourself. Model a healthy lifestyle that includes getting appropriate rest, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding addictive behavior and substances. Children benefit from witnessing a parent’s healthy lifestyle. And a healthy parent provides a healthier family environment.
  2. Support other parents when you can and when they express a need. It’s easy to become overwhelmed as a parent. We all need a support group, a group of like-minded adults who can help us when things get rough or when we need a “break.” We need a “village” to help us when the stresses of parenting and life become overwhelming. We need wise adults who can help us stay on a healthy path in our parenting and family life. Develop a healthy support system of like-minded adults.
  3. Establish healthy boundaries around authority, responsibility, and caregiving. If you’re not sure where the healthy boundary lies, seek the counsel of other adults or even the counsel of a professional counselor. Remember, the parent maintains a position of “bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind” in the home.
  4. Continue to learn and grow both as a parent and as an individual. Read about parenting and personal growth. Attend a seminar. Continue to learn and grow.

These steps may not end all “up-side-down” families, but they will go a long way in helping your children benefit from a “right-side-up” family. In the process, your children will grow up in a healthy environment, gaining wise insight into healthy boundaries of authority, responsibility, and caregiving.

Some Parental Confessions

I remember having many doubts and questions while raising my children. I can remember thinking, “I have no idea what I’m doing” and, “This is too much. I’m overwhelmed.” On many occasions, I was exhausted, uncertain, overwhelmed. Have you ever felt that way? Have you made similar statements to yourself as a parent? Parenting can “take it out of us.”

So how do we get through those periods of doubt and confusion? We seek help. I don’t mean seeking a therapist (although that may prove helpful at times). I mean seeking out friends or family members. A healthy parent needs a support system, a village to provide support and answers to the many questions we encounter.

Supportive friends and family help us recognize the normalcy in the struggle of parenthood. I remember wondering (no, I remember worrying) about the normalcy of various behaviors my children engaged in while growing up. Every time, a friend whose children were much older than my children, would talk about times his children did the same things. It was a relief to learn my children’s behaviors were normal and I “wasn’t ruining them.” Supportive friends and family also taught me what types of activities and interactions with their children they found helpful. In addition, we could share our frustrations together, differentiate typical behavior from atypical behavior, behavior to worry about from typical behavior, and support one another in the journey of parenthood.

Supportive friends and family offer us time for self-care. We can turn to friends and family for periods of child-care that free us up to “take care of ourselves.” That may simply mean grocery shopping without an infant in arms or going on a date with our spouse. Knowing other couples with children may provide opportunities to share time watching children so each couple can go out as a couple. Or you might take turns with rides to school, practices, or activities, freeing one another up to take care of other things.

Supportive friends and family foster resilience and a sense of confidence. Having support strengthens us and empowers us to continue growing, even when we feel tired. They also can help assure we maintain a healthy balance in our parenting, pointing out ways we can improve in our parenting and ways in which we are doing well.

You can foster supportive friends and families in several ways.

  • Be the support you’re seeking. Offer to help a friend with their children, to take their children on an outing with your children. It can turn into an opportunity to do the same for one another. Encourage other parents you know.
  • Get involved in groups that include other families. That may include community groups, sports groups, music groups, dance groups, or MOPS to name a few. Church also provides an excellent source for family and parent support.
  • Meet your neighbors. I know it can prove difficult in today’s environment, but get to know your neighbors. Many neighbors become wonderful supports in helping raise children.

All parents need a village of support to empower and energize them in the task of parenthood. Who makes up your supportive village?

The Key to Emotional Health in Adolescence

Adolescence is a time of challenge and opportunity, a time of growth for parent and child. At times you and your child may feel like pulling your hair out during their adolescent years. And, at other times, you may feel like pulling one another’s hair out. But there is a key that can help nurture health for parent and child during the adolescent years. It’s a key that the parent holds but both parent and teen benefit from it. Psychologists call this key “authoritative parenting.” Several studies have shown authoritative parenting beneficial for raising children. Among other things, studies suggest it promotes a positive self-concept and better self-control in children as well as better relationships between parents and their children. Why? Because it sets health, age-appropriate limits AND it offers warm relationships.

What makes a warm relationship between parent and child? In a warm relationship, parents show delight in their children. They are responsive to their children. Not only do they respond to their children on a consistent basis, but their responses match the children’s needs of the moment. Parents listen, observing their children’s behavior as well as hearing the message behind their words, and respond in a way that communicates understanding and affection. Warm parent-child relationships also involve sharing time together enjoying positive interactions.

In addition to warm relationships, authoritative parenting also involves healthy, age-appropriate limits. Children are not allowed to do whatever they want when they want. Instead, parents establish and enforce limits for their children’s safety and health. These limits help assure predictability and security for their children. Ironically, children more easily explore their world and their interests from the safety of well-established and lovingly enforced limits. Exploration helps them learn and grow. So, in effect, lovingly enforced, age-appropriate limits nurture our children’s ability to learn and grow.

Together, warm parenting combined with healthy, age-appropriate limits make up authoritative parenting, the type of parenting that promotes a healthy adolescence for both parent and adolescent. Know what I like about this? You can learn to practice authoritative parenting. You can practice warmth in your relationship and learn to lovingly enforce healthy limits. Here’s a few basics.

  • Listen intently to your children’s verbal and nonverbal communications. Even their behaviors are communicating something for you to “hear.”
  • Remain responsive to your children’s communications and needs.
  • Establish healthy, age-appropriate limits and lovingly enforce those limits.
  • Show consistency in your responsiveness to your children and in the enforcement of limits.
  • As our children mature, allow the limits to change. Let them become increasingly “in charge” of their own decisions and consequences.
  • Enjoy your maturing adolescent and your relationship with them.

Encourage Your Child’s Anger

If you want your children to achieve challenging goals in their lives, you may have to encourage their anger. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean letting them blow up or “rage” around the house. I mean accepting their anger and then teaching them how to manage that anger as a motivating factor in their lives. After all, anger, like all emotions, plays an important role in our lives and the lives of our children.

  • First, anger reveals our priorities and values. It also alerts us to important situations that require action. We really only get angry over things we value. Situations and things that don’t matter to us don’t arouse our emotions either. We only get angry or happy or sad about those things we value, things important to us. So, when your children express anger, consider what priority and value that anger is communicating. Help them identify the priority or value their anger reveals. Is it a value of respect? Safety? Fairness? Does it reveal the hurt of not being included? Help your child discover and understand the value underlying their anger.
  • Second, anger energizes us to respond and align the situation with our values and priorities. This energy can help motivate our children to pursue a goal or align a situation with their values. In fact, at least one study found anger improved a person’s ability to reach a goal while a “neutral “emotion did not. Anger increased effort. But, we have to channel the energy and motivation of anger toward our priority in a healthy way. Unfortunately, children often use the energy of anger without considering the value or priority they want to communicate. They strike out in anger because they feel disrespected. Or they strike out in anger when they feel excluded. In doing so, they miscommunicate. Rather than communicating a priority of respect, they arouse further disrespect or fear. Rather than communicating a desire for inclusion, they push the other people away.
  • So, after you help your child identify the value underlying their anger, you can brainstorm actions they can take to effectively communicate their values or achieve the goals related to their values.

Practicing these three steps with your children will teach them to accept their anger, understand the value behind the anger, and utilize its energy to achieve their goals. In this way, anger becomes an ally, a motivator, even a teacher rather than a hindrance.

They Know More Than You Think

Our children are geniuses. They know so much more than we think. In some sense, this is good. It helps them learn and grow. In other ways, not so good because they know much more about what is going on at home than we might imagine. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies revealed how much children between 3-years-old and 6-years-old know about their family’s relationships and conflicts. They were able to describe negative and positive aspects of their family’s relationships. They could give detailed descriptions about family dynamics—good and bad dynamics. They could explain the emotions of various family members by giving detailed descriptions of facial expressions, tone of voice, and behavior. In other words, children are watching AND learning.

Based on this finding, we have to ask ourselves: Are our interactions and conflict management styles teaching our children how to interact and manage emotions in a positive way? Are we giving seeing and learning healthy skills as they watch and learn from our behavior, facial expressions, tone of voice, and interactions? What will they learn about relationships from us? What will they carry into their families based on the lessons they learn by watching us? Be aware and make sure your children learn more positive lessons by watching you.

The authors of this study also found that conflict between a parent and their child often remained unresolved. As a result, the child turned to a sibling or a pet for comfort during tension with a parent. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my child to feel like a family pet offers more comfort than I do. So, resolve the conflict to keep the relationship open for comforting and support. You can resolve the conflict in a variety of ways, depending on the situation. For instance,

  • You can sit down and talk after everyone has calmed down. Talks about what happened and why it created a problem. Then discuss how to manage similar situations in the future in a more productive and healthy manner.
  • Apologize if and when you need to. Apologizing to our children when appropriate teaches them important lessons about responsibility, justice, and humility.
  • Reaffirm your love for your child. Make sure they know you love them even when you disagree with them, get upset with them, or even discipline them. Affirm your love verbally and nonverbally every day as often as you can.

Children are keenly aware of the family dynamics in our homes. They watch us to learn about marriage, relationships, conflict resolution, compromise, and many other life skills that they will take with them into their own marriages and families. Make sure the lessons they learn from you are the lessons you want them to know for life.

Middle School & Mental Health…Like Riding a Bike

If you have a child in middle school or approaching middle school, you’ll want to know this information to help protect their mental health. You already know that middle school is a time of change and transition. Middle school age youth encounter transitions in their physical bodies, their social lives, and their sense of growing independence. With all this transition, it’s no surprise that the middle school years represent potential mental health challenges.

A study involving more than 1,200 students between 11-years-old and 14-years-old found that riding a bike at least three times a week for a minimum of 6 weeks experienced an increase sense of well-being. Each student learned about cycling safety and outdoor bike maneuvering skills. They had fun riding their bike—raising their heart rate and having fun. The benefits of this activity seemed to arise from two things.

  • One, the positive experience and physical activities of riding a bike.
  • Two, the social experience of riding with other people.

I told you that you’d want to know this information if you had a child in middle school or nearing middle school. You can help increase your child’s sense of well-being by helping them learn to ride a bike and start the habit of riding a bike. Maybe they’d enjoy a spin class or simply going out to enjoy a bike ride several times a week. Whatever way your child might enjoy, bike riding may increase your child’s sense of well-being.

An Amazing,Daily 7-Minute Investment

Did you know that a simple, 7-minute investment made on a daily basis can change your relationship with your child? It can also change your child’s life forever. This simple investment involves giving your undivided attention to your child for at least 7-minutes a day. Wait…before you quit reading, consider what it feels like to receive someone’s full attention. It informs us of our value. It communicates how much the person loves us. It leaves us with a sense of joy and contentment. Don’t you want your children to experience your love as well as the sense of value, joy, and contentment that results from your undivided attention? For all the benefit your child gains, this investment is really simple. It involves only 3 steps and about 7-minutes.

First, set aside a consistent time in which you can engage your children every day. You might schedule this time first thing in the morning, at bedtime, or while eating a meal or snack together. You pick the time that works best for you and your child. During this time, focus on them. Put away any distractions. Turn off all cellphones, TVs, and gaming equipment.  Listen and follow your children’s lead in the conversation. You can ask a question to get things started, but your most important task is to listen intently with the goal of learning about your children, their day, and their lives.

Second, focus on the positive. You can make it a time of gratitude. You can talk about positive things that have happened or about dreams of the future. You might explore ways in which your children have overcome various obstacles or managed stressors they encountered. Admire their ingenuity and resilience. But save discipline, “suggestions,” or lessons for another time. If you do have to offer some criticism in the moment (and I emphasize, only if it absolutely must be addressed immediately) sandwich it between some positive, loving statements. The important aspect of this time together is to celebrate your children, their strengths, and their interests. You want them to experience how much you delight in them and value them.

Third, voice your admiration of your children’s efforts in doing the things they enjoy as well as their efforts in managing the obstacles and hardships of life. Point out how their effort has led to improvements in talents and strengths and, in turn, led to even greater satisfaction and contentment. Express your pride in their persistence. Make it all conversational with the direction and topic determined by your children and their interests at the time. The goal is to let them know you recognize their efforts and that those efforts reap positive results, even if they experience temporary setbacks.

Three steps, 7-minutes…that’s it. But they will change your relationship with your children today and far into the future. They will also change your children’s lives for years to come. The icing on the cake? You will enjoy a wonderful time growing closer to your child.

Chores…Really?

A collective groan arises at the mere mention of the word…chores. Why do we, as parents, encourage (or even pull out our hair the umpteenth time we remind) our children to engage in chores? Of course, we want them to learn the skills necessary for running a household and increasing their sense of competency and independence at the same time. We also want them to learn the responsibility of being an active part of a home. We also want to give them the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the home, increasing their sense of worth and value.

But there is another reason children and parents benefit from chores. A survey of 2,000 people in the Americas revealed that children who participated in chores also had a stronger relationship with their parents as adults. Specifically, one in four said chores helped them bond with their parents. Sixty percent of people found comfort in completing household tasks the way they learned from their parents.

In other words, parents encourage children to complete chores with the future in mind—a future in which their adult children have a more positive relationship with them and one in which their adult children find comfort in household routines. But I don’t believe that simply making children do work for us around the house will have this positive future effect. No. There are at least two caveats to these important goals.

  1. Do chores with your children. Make the completion of household tasks a family matter. Set the table together. Take out the garbage together. Clean the house together. Do yardwork together. You may have some tasks you do alone. Your children may also have some tasks they do alone (like making their bed or keeping their room clean). However, doing tasks with your children gives you the opportunity to teach them how to do the task. Even better, it provides the opportunity for you to converse with your child. In the conversation you can learn about them, and they can learn about you. In addition, you and your children will have the pleasure of looking at a task completed together after sharing time doing the task. In other words, doing household tasks together nurtures a relationship that will last a lifetime.
  2. Make sure the household tasks your child completes are meaningful. Children, especially as they move into their teen years, need to know the work they do has purpose and meaning. They don’t want to do a meaningless job (like folding underwear or ironing sheets) simply to do a job. They want a job with purpose and meaning. Give them meaningful tasks that serve a purpose in your home and explain the significance of the task while you do it together.

As you complete meaningful household chores with your children, you’ll develop a positive relationship that will last a lifetime. That, I believe, may be the most important household task for any family to complete.

Dad Vs. Mom in Their Child’s Success

A study using a sample of almost 5,000 mother-father households found that parents play a unique role in their children’s academic success. Specifically, this study confirmed that interactive activities between a father and their three-year-old contributes to that child’s improved academic performance when they are five-years-old. And when a father is actively engaged with his five-year-old child, that child tends to have higher academic scores at seven-years-old. In other words, a father who engages his child in interactive activities promotes their academic success.

The same study suggested that a mother’s involvement with their child tends to promote improved emotional and social behaviors rather than academic achievement.

In general, children benefit from having both a mother and a father actively engaged in their lives. I just find it interesting that a mother’s involvement is more predictive of emotional and social behaviors while a father’s involvement is more predictive of academic success. So, if you want an emotionally healthy child who has good social skills and does well in school, engage with your child in a variety of activities on a regular basis.

Become actively involved in your child’s life and promote their future success.

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