Archive for Honor

Naps Are For Kids, Right?

We encourage our babies and toddlers to take naps. But adults? No, naps are for kids. Or are they? I remember laying down with my children many times to get them to take a nap only to “doze off” myself. Is that bad? Researchers don’t think so. In fact, they suggest that naps may prove beneficial for adults as well as children. In one interview, the person being interviewed went so far as to report naps as virtuous.

What makes naps so good? We all get that “lull” in our attention and concentration in the afternoon. That represents a low point in our ultradian rhythms. It points to a need to let our body rest and recover from the natural work it has done and is doing during the day. When we take a short nap and allow our mind and body to recover, it sharpens our mind and helps us solve problems more effectively.  In fact, one study noted that those who took a short nap were better able to solve a math problem they struggled with prior to their nap. Naps also make us more productive; and they improve our mood.

There is a caveat though. The most productive naps are only 20-30 minutes long. These “short naps” allow us to rest and recover without suffering the sluggishness of trying to wake up from a deep sleep. Also, it is best to nap prior to 5pm so your nap does not interfere with your nighttime sleep schedule.

All this being said, a nap may be good for you and your family. It can help everyone stay in a better mood and so have greater patience with one another. It may help your family solve problems more easily, reduce conflict, or recover from conflict more quickly. And don’t forget that a nap can just make a person feel better. So why give all the good stuff to the kids? If you’re feeling overwhelmed, grumpy, or struggling to respond in a productive manner to the many things that arise in the day, take a nap. In fact, enjoy a family nap. It’s OK. It’s more than OK. It’s healthy for you and your family.  

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.

The Power of Speaking with Vulnerable Honesty

Every married couple will experience disagreements and conflict. However, how we say what we say can calm a conflict or escalate it, arouse defensiveness or cooperation. It can push away or draw near, disempower or empower. Consider these statements and possible alternatives.

“I hate staying in every night. We never do anything together.” That feels like an attack. It will more easily push the other person to defensiveness or shutting down. On the other hand, imagine how different a response you might receive if you start from a place of vulnerable honesty, making a less harsh statement while communicating your deeper desire for connection.

  • “I miss spending time with you. Would you like to go to dinner and a movie tonight?”

“Do some work around the house, would you? I’m not your servant.” Once again, the harshness will likely arouse defensiveness from the other person. And the attacking statements do not address the deeper desire and need. Once again, a statement from a place of vulnerable honesty might get a better response.

  • “I’m feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs done. I really need your help. Could you clean the…?”

I think you get the idea but let me share one more just to make sure. “What’s your problem. You haven’t touch me in months.” Unfortunately, a statement like this pushes the other person further away. Try starting from a place of vulnerable honesty and clearly state your desire and need.

  • “I miss hugging and snuggling with you. Let’s snuggle up on the couch and watch a movie or read books while snuggling tonight.”

Notice the differences? The first statements were harsh, accusatory, and attacking. The alternatives speak from a place of vulnerable honesty by clearly expressing a true need or desire. Then, they offered a simple solution, empowering both people to take action to meet the need. As a result, the alternative statements will more likely motivate a positive response and lead to a better end. But it all beings with speaking from a place of vulnerable honesty.

To Keep Your Marriage Stronger, Longer

Do you want to have a life-long, happy marriage? I do….and I have good news. According to research, this one daily behavior will contribute to a long, happy marriage. The findings came from analyzing data from 732 couples between the ages of 64- and 74-years-old. What is the behavior that contributes to a joyous marriage well into late adulthood? Well, the research involved having couples increase the frequency of intimacy in their marriage. Those that increased the frequency of their intimacy reported increased marital quality.  Not that surprising, right?  Couples that enjoy intimacy report greater positivity about their marriage. Physical contact protects the quality of a marriage.

Another study noted that a particular type of intimacy promotes well-being in marriages: kissing. Just like the old song: “K-I-S-S-I-N-G.” Kissing decreases a person’s level of cortisol (a stress hormone) while increasing oxytocin (a hormone that encourages bonding). Kissing also relaxes people and builds a deeper connection between those kissing. Decreased stress. Increased bonding. Greater connection. Each can add to a person’s sense of well-being. And, of course, previous blogs talk about the importance of hugging.

Spending quality time intimately conversing with your spouse will also increase the well-being of your marriage. Sit down and have a conversation with your spouse. Discuss your hopes and dreams as well as all the things you admire and adore about your spouse. “Look into their eyes” and tell them the depth of your love.

Let me ask again. Do you want a life-long, happy marriage? Then enjoy intimacy with your spouse. Kiss. Hug. Hold hands. Enjoy meaningful conversation with one another. Go with the flow and “see where it goes.” Not just once, but practice, practice, practice. Not only will you promote better marital quality, but you’ll have fun as well.

Don’t Forget the Secret Sauce

Many ingredients nurture a strong and healthy marriage: communication, time together, sharing emotions…the list goes on. But, the secret sauce of relationships, the ingredient that flows over it and adds extra flavor to the whole, is gratitude. Feeling appreciated by your spouse and appreciating your spouse forms a crucial ingredient to a healthy marriage. This truth became evident in a study that looked at the effectiveness of online relationship interventions. The primary finding revealed that online relationship interventions proved effective in building healthier marriages. Interestingly, the study also revealed that the couples reported improvement in partner gratitude after the interventions, even though the interventions did not specifically address the issue of gratitude. It reinforced what many already know: in healthy marriages both spouses express gratitude to one another and both spouses feel appreciated by one another.

With that in mind, if you want to nurture a strong and healthy marriage, practice gratitude. Make an intentional effort to watch for opportunities to express gratitude to your spouse and for your spouse. You can express your gratitude for things they do, things they say, or for aspects of their character you enjoy (“Thank you for being so fun loving and laughing with me”). In fact, make it a point to express gratitude to your spouse and for your spouse every day.

Express your gratitude sincerely, voluntarily, not under compulsion. Gratitude expressed because “I have to” becomes insincere and ineffective. It becomes meaningless. So don’t slip into taking your spouse for granted. They do not “have to” do anything for you. Everything they do is an expression of love, a commitment to your life together. Recognize that and let your gratitude flow from a heart of thanksgiving.

Finally, be aware of your spouse’s expressions of gratitude for you and the things you do. That gratitude may come to you verbally or through actions, so keep your eyes and ears open. Don’t get caught up in a feeling of entitlement and miss your spouse’s expression of gratitude. Be open to hearing their gratitude. Accept their expressions of gratitude.

Expressing gratitude and receiving gratitude is like the secret sauce flowing over your marriage with added flavor and joy. Like all sauces, gratitude is best if you pour it on because the more the better.

The Choice

I love my wife. She is the most amazing woman I know. Still, sometimes she drives me crazy. She does things that…well…just don’t make sense. Take the dishwasher for example. Watching her load the dishwasher almost hurts. I have to do it for the sake of getting it to full capacity. She has no sense of keeping the covers neat while we sleep either. She pulls them, pushes them over the edge, wrinkles them.

Right now, many of you are probably thinking, “I feel sorry for your wife.” Don’t worry. I drive her crazy sometimes too. (…even though I, like Mary Poppins, am “practically perfect in every way.” My wife just sighed and laughed as I typed that self-description. I “may” be exaggerating.) The dishwasher thing… she just laughs, shakes her head, and watches me load it. She thinks I’m crazy for how I cocoon in the covers. But here’s the point, the reason I bring it up. My wife and I share a deep love for one other and that love shapes how we respond to any “issues” that arise. 

In fact, when such “issues” arise (or even more significant concerns), married couples are faced with a choice. They can start to rant and rave. They can resort to criticism, contempt, and blame. Or they can let the viral warrior of kindness arise in our hearts.

I’ve heard many couples resort to criticism, contempt, and blame. I’m sure you have too.

  • “What’s wrong with you? You can’t do it that way.”
  • “You’re ridiculous. Get out of my way.”
  • “You can’t even wash clothes right. I have to do it to make sure it’s done right!”
  • “It’s your fault we can’t have friends over. You can’t even put your socks away.”
  • “I don’t know why I put up with you and your incompetence. You’re just like your….”
  • “What are you, stupid? Think about what you just said.”

The list of such comments can go on. You’ve heard them, I’m sure. However, in the moment of that critical, contemptuous, or blaming comment, love has been cast out the window. The armor of contempt with its weapons of criticism, disgust, hurt, and defensiveness, has been donned. Put on this armor and cast love out the window often enough and your marriage dies. A lack of kindness delivers death blow after death blow, slowing killing it. Sometimes it’s not even the words that we use but the tone with which we say them. Even seemingly neutral words given with a tone of sarcasm, condescension, or resentment communicate criticism and contempt. 

Love, on the other hand, gives voice to kindness in such situations. When your spouse does something that “drives you crazy,” love puts on the armor of kind words and kind actions. Kindness accepts different ways in which our spouses do things and view things. In fact, the viral warrior of kindness goes a step further and recognizes that our spouses’ way of doing things and viewing things is actually credible, possibly even better than our way!

The viral warrior of kindness also celebrates a job well-done rather than criticizing that it’s “not done to my standards.” Kindness recognizes that there may be multiple ways to complete a job, one as good as the next. The very fact that your spouse participates in “getting the work done” is an expression of love worthy of recognition by the viral warrior of kindness.  

As a result, the viral warrior of kindness compliments and expresses gratitude for everything our spouses do to make our home place of joy and peace.  In fact, kindness makes a point of seeking daily opportunities to express appreciation and admiration for their spouse and for what their spouse has done.

The next time you find yourself at odds with your spouse on how to load a dishwasher, fold a towel, squeeze the toothpaste, clean the bathroom, make a bed, or any other area of possible animosity, realize you have a choice: respond with kindness or not. Let me rephrase that: respond with love or not? After all, love is kind. Love employs the viral warrior of kindness.

The Power to Change the World

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Kindness has the power to change the world and, just as important, kindness begins in your family. Sharing kindness with our spouse and children spurs them to spread kindness to those outside the home as well. It might just induce a ripple effect of kindness spreading through the community. Perhaps you don’t believe kindness can have this type of power. I too thought it sounded too good to be true. How could kindness, let alone kindness displayed simply within the family, have the power to save the whole world? But then I began to explore the possibility. Take a moment and consider some of what I discovered.

Family relationships are built upon small daily interactions. These interactions can be marked by kindness or not. Kind interactions communicate love and delight, adoration and appreciation for one another. This translates into relationships founded on trust, security, and safety—what researchers label as a secure attachment. In other words, daily acts of kindness help to build a secure and that secure attachment impacts how people navigate the world. In fact, researchers have found that prompting people to recall memories of healthy family relationships based on daily acts of kindness (a secure attachment), led them to treat others with greater kindness. Specifically,

  • They expressed fewer negative stereotypes about other people and voiced fewer negative emotions about other people. They also expressed less support for aggressive actions toward others.        
  • They reported less intense negative reactions to people outside “our group.”
  • Recalling memories of secure attachments eliminated the “effects of threat” to a person’s self-esteem posed by those with different views and increased the person’s willingness to interact with those outside “their group.”
  • It also lessened their negative response to people who posed a threat to their cultural worldview.
  • Recalling memories of healthy family relationships built on kindness (a secure attachment) led to an increased use of “self-transcendence values” like understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protecting and enhancing the welfare of others.
  • It also provided a foundation for compassion and caregiving behaviors.
  • And, it contributed to reporting a greater willingness to engage in, and then actually engaging in, more selfless and prosocial behaviors.

These studies suggest that the small daily acts of kindness that contribute to a secure attachment can change the world. What are those small daily acts of kindness?

  • Showing delight in your family member. Greeting them with a smile reveals how glad you are to see them.
  • Expressing healthy affection for your spouse and children through loving words and affectionate touch.
  • Offering comfort during even minor times of stress and rejoicing together during times of celebration.
  • Encouraging your spouse and children to pursue their interests and explorations of the world. This may involve supporting them in their pursuit as well.
  • Listening deeply.
  • Believing the best about your spouse’s intents and motivations as well as your children’s intents and motivations.

These simple daily practices of kindness can change the world, starting with your marriage and your family. Kindness is powerful.

A Sacred Challenge for Your Family

Fred Rogers said, “I believe that appreciation is a holy thing—that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred.”

I agree. I also believe that the best place to start this holy activity is within our families. When we practice the holy activity of appreciation within the family, we nurture a healthier family. We will also raise a generation of people who appreciate others and engage in the holy art of appreciation. A generation armed with the sacred tool of appreciation will nurture peace in our communities, scattering hatred of self and others. After all, a child who knows they are appreciated learns to appreciate themselves and others, to love themselves and others, to have confidence in themselves and others. In this way, the “holy thing” of appreciation within the family can start a movement that might change the world. You may think my vision grandiose. But, even if I’m wrong and it doesn’t change the world, it will most definitely change your family.

With this in mind, let me present a challenge for you and your family.

  • Write down the name of each family member on a piece of paper.
  • Every day for the next month, look for and identify one thing you can appreciate about each family member. This may include something you admire about their character or some action you can thank them for.
  • Express that appreciation to them verbally as it occurs.
  • Then, at the end of each day, write that appreciation next to their name.
  • At the end of the month, sit down as a family and review your appreciation list over a favorite family meal or dessert. Enjoy the appreciation and watch your children’s faces and your spouse’s face glow with joy to know how much they are appreciated.

The Real Message Your Tween Wants You to Know

If you asked your tween-age child what they want to you know about life as a tween, what would they say? Actually, they might already be telling you without you even asking. You have to “listen” closely to hear the message behind their words and emotional outbursts to hear the true message.  When you do, you’ll hear at least two things that they really want you to know.

One message you may hear your tween telling you is: “Life as a tween is harder than you think.” You likely hear this message in phrases like, “You don’t understand…things are different than when you were a kid” or “You’re too old.” It is true. Life for a tween is filled with stress. They have to learn to navigate peer relationships and peer pressures. Their bodies are changing. They have to learn to manage their hormone infused, shape changing bodies as well as their changing emotions and attractions. They also face academic pressure, family pressures, and threats to their self-concept. Their world grows exponentially, causing them to question and reassess values they merely accepted as younger children.

As a parent, you can help your tween feel more understood by listening deeply. Invest in regular one-on-one times with your tween. Ask about their world, their friends, their concerns…and listen intently.

You can also help your tween manage the stress of the tween years by encouraging regular physical activity in their lives. Tweens who get an hour or more of exercise a day exhibit less physical reactivity when faced with a stressful task. Specifically, they produce less cortisol (stress hormone) in response to stressful situations. They manage stress more effectively.

A second message your Tween may tell you is: “I’m not a kid anymore.” You may have heard this statement directly or in comments like “Why do I still have to go to bed so early?” or “You don’t care what I think.” Our tween-age children want us to take them seriously, to recognize their growing knowledge and insights, to give genuine consideration to their input and ideas. They want to move from the “kids’ table” to find a seat with the adults.

In fact, our tweens can teach us a lot. They have a world of knowledge at their fingertips (their cell phones) and they’re not afraid to use it. They need the adults in their life to validate their growing knowledge and to provide some guidance in learning which sources of knowledge to trust and which to question.  As a parent, we can validate their growing knowledge by listening and engaging them in conversation. We can allow them to teach us while we ask questions and further the discussion, guiding them and motivating them to discern the information they gather.

Parents can also involve their tweens in family decisions, like vacation planning or meal planning. They can involve their tween in discussions of current events. Our tweens also need us to provide them with opportunities to make meaningful contributions to the management of the household. They need us to trust them with significant household duties and personal responsibility.

These are two very important messages our tweens want their parents to hear…and parents really need to hear. Not only do we need to hear these messages, but we also need to implement them into our relationship with and our expectations of our tweens. Probably I should mention one more.

“I don’t like when you call us ‘tweens.’” Remember that one. No one likes to carry a label that leads to assumptions and preconceived ideas. Everyone is an individual with personal interests and ideas. So, call your child by their name or some endearing term and uplifting nickname. Explore their individuality and let them teach you about their personal interests and idiosyncrasies. It will be the beginning of a lifelong beautiful relationship.

Protect Your Child from the Dangers of Achievement

Every parent wants their children to succeed. But is that a wise desire? A healthy desire? Don’t get me wrong. Our children need a certain level of achievement so they can make a meaningful contribution to the world around them. But an overemphasis on achievement becomes toxic. In fact, the pressure for academic and career success has become toxic in our society. One survey found that 70% of 28- to- 30-year-olds believed their parents “valued and appreciated” them more if they succeeded in school. A full 50% believed their parents loved them more if they were successful. Those statistics reveal achievement gone awry, an achievement toxic to our children’s health.

In fact, a report from the experts at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have added “excessive pressure to excel” and “youth in high-achieving schools” to the list of “at-risk youth.” They rank the overemphasis of achievement in our society to be as detrimental to a child’s healthy emotional and mental health as poverty, trauma, discrimination, and parental incarceration. (Learn more in Why Achievement Culture Has Become So Toxic.)

Why has achievement become so toxic? Probably a number of factors contribute, including parents’ legitimate concern for their child’s future. Let’s face it, we (parents) fear for our children’s future economic and reputational future. Society tells us that our children’s future security is based on success in academics, extracurricular activities, and careers. But all the academic, sport, or career achievement does not necessarily bring success in adulthood. And it definitely does not result in happiness or well-being in life. In fact, an overemphasis on achievement increases stress, anxiety, and depression, placing our children in the “at-risk group” for emotional challenges.

What can a parent do to counteract society’s push for overachievement? First, make sure your children know they matter to you and others. As many as one third of adolescents in the U.S. believe (dare I say, “fear”) they do not matter to the people in their communities. They don’t feel heard, celebrated, or delighted in. They fear no one cares enough about them to check in on them when they are sick or simply missing from an activity. Make sure your children know they matter. Check in on them. Learn about their friends, their interests, their fears, their struggles. Celebrate their progress. Acknowledge and celebrate their efforts. Remain actively engaged in their lives.

Second, provide opportunities for them to engage in activities that add meaning to other people’s lives. Such activities can be as simple as mowing the lawn for a shut-in or doing a significant task to maintain the household. Or it may be as complex as volunteering at a homeless shelter, sharing a mission, or becoming active in a social cause. Such activities help our children find their sense of purpose. They help our children discover that they add meaning to other people’s lives through service and seeking the greater good of others.

Third, support their hobbies. Research has discovered that those who engaged in a hobby of interest to them experienced a boost in well-being and a drop in stress and anxiety. Of course, a child’s hobby may also tie in with their purpose. At times, it may even overlap with an “activity that adds meaning to other people’s lives.” Either way, pursuing a hobby boosted well-being and decreased stress and anxiety.

In the long run, what do you really desire for your children? A wall of plaques noting their achievements…or happiness, healthy relationships, and a sense of well-being? Don’t let a goal of achievement become toxic and poison your children, robbing them of happiness, well-being, and healthy relationships. Instead, help them build a life in which they know they matter.

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