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Don’t Squelch Your Little Creative Genius

Children are born creative geniuses. At least that’s what a study by George Landis of NASA discovered (Learn more about that study in this TedTalk). He had developed a test for NASA to determine the creativity of job applicants. As they gave it to job applicants, questions arose—like, “Where does creativity come from?” and “Are we born creative, or do we learn creativity?” In an attempt to get some answers to these questions, they utilized this test of creativity to discover the level of creativity in children.  

  • They tested 1,600 children (4- to 5-years of age) and found that 98% fell into the category of creative genius.
  • They then tested the same children 5 years later (at about 10-years of age). The percentage who tested in the genius category of imagination fell to 30%.
  • Again, the children were tested at 15-years of age. The percentage fell to 12%.
  • They also gave the test to about 2,800 adults and found the percentage of adults falling into the category of genius was only 2%.

How discouraging is that? The creativity of a person seemed to decrease over time. The authors of this study believe this decline occurred because we teach our children to judge and criticize ideas before dreaming or generating new ideas, even instead of dreaming or generating new ideas. We teach them to seek the “one right answer,” even for new problems that arise. In doing so, we silence the creative idea generating parts of our brain.

We face many “new” problems in our world today, problems ranging from technology to social relationships to environmental needs. In other words, creativity could prove a valuable asset in our world. Fortunately, we are all born with a streak of creative genius. For the sake of our world and our happiness, we need our children to flourish as creative geniuses as they mature. We need them to maintain their creative flare so they can meet the challenges of this world with various solutions…and we need our own 5-year-old creative genius to reemerge and help us to start our families on a new and creative path of solutions to the challenges we face today. How can we do this?

  • Create opportunities for creative expression. Allow your children the opportunity to engage in creative activities and creative problem-solving.
  • Stop and listen to creative moments that naturally arise. When your child offers a suggestion or a possible solution to some problem, stop and listen. Even if it sounds outlandish at first, stop and consider the possibility. Rather than judge or criticize, talk about their thoughts and ideas. Talk through the possibilities with them. When your child creates an art project, observe it and recognize a particular aspect you like or find interesting rather than judge and criticize. Who cares if the sky is green or the fish have wings? Allow creative expression and exploration. You will be pleasantly surprised by your child’s creative reasoning.
  • Encourage a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. You can do this by acknowledging effort more than outcome. Recognize specific details about their work rather than offering global praises and acknowledgments. Avoid labeling your child as “creative” or “not creative.” Rather than label, simply acknowledge their effort and the interesting details of their project.
  • Also, frame “failures” and “setbacks” as opportunities to learn. This also contributes to a growth mindset. Besides, when you think about it, creativity is all about learning from what doesn’t work and applying what you learn in a new way to discover a new solution. Allow your children the joy of failures and setbacks along with the opportunities to learn from them.  
  • Play. Have fun and play. You might even make up the game if you don’t have one in mind already. You can also enjoy playing with words by telling jokes or stories. Play with music by singing or playing an instrument. Even make an instrument. Play catch. Play a sport. Play slow motion tag. Play anything you like…just play and have fun.
  • Encourage curiosity. Travel. Try a new food. Go to an art museum. Play a new game. Enjoy new and novel activities. All of this will encourage curiosity.

Creativity adds joy to life. Creativity supports resilience and perseverance. Creativity opens the door to creating a better world for our children and grandchildren. Nurture your creativity and your children’s creativity…it will make the world a better place.

The Impact on Your Child of How You Feel About Their Other Parent

It’s true. Mothers and fathers often have different ideas about raising children. They come to the parenting relationship with different styles and even different priorities, all of which can be negotiated through discussions and compromise.  In fact, it’s important to work out those differences because how one parent sees the other parent’s level of cooperation and competence has a huge impact on their child’s behavior and future social relations.  

A study out of The Ohio State University revealed that the way parents viewed their coparent played a crucial role in the behavioral and social adjustment of their children. This study involved 2,915 low-income couples with children under 5-years-old and living in one of seven U.S. states. At the start of the study, parents were asked how they related to one another as parents. In other words, they were asked about their coparenting relationship. Their answers led the research team to separate them into four groups:

  • Group 1: Both parents saw their coparenting relationship as “highly positive.” This group made up 43% of the total.
  • Group 2: Both parents saw their coparenting relationship as “moderately positive,” but the mothers were less positive about the father’s parenting. This group made up 32% of the total.
  • Group 3: Both parents saw their coparenting relationship as “moderately positive,” but the fathers were less positive about the mother’s parenting. This group comprised 16% of the total.
  • Group 4: Both parents saw their coparenting relationship as being of “low quality.” Fortunately, this group comprised only 9% of the total.

Eighteen months later, the parents were asked to rate their children’s behavioral adjustment and social competence.  Not surprisingly, the children of parents who both reported having a “highly positive” coparenting relationship (Group 1) showed the best adjustment. They exhibited the fewest behavioral problems and the highest level of social competence.  Group 2 also showed a high level of adjustment—fewer behavioral problems and greater social competence.

The final two groups showed the lowest levels of adjustment. Interesting, a father’s negative perception of the mother’s coparenting (Group 3) had a greater negative impact on children’s behavior and social competence than a mother’s negative perception of a father’s coparenting (Group 2). Of course, when both parents reported a poor coparenting relationship, the children struggled the most with behavioral adjustment and social competence.

With this in mind, if you want your child to have fewer behavioral problems and greater social competence, focus on nurturing a strong coparenting relationship with their other parent.

  • Accept differences. You will have different ideas and styles than your children’s other parent. Most of those differences will be minor. For instance, fathers tend to engage in more rough and tumble play. Mothers tend to offer more nurturance. Fathers encourage “shaking it off.” Mothers tend to comfort first. In my marriage, I tend to be the one willing to get dessert or a special treat as part of our “get together.” My wife enjoys a more interactive engagement without food. Accept those differences. Allow the other parent the freedom to parent slightly differently than you.
  • Discuss and negotiate aspects you deem most important. You will discover some areas of parental responsibility that you believe essential. Talk with the other parent about those areas of parenting. Explain your reasons and your concerns. Negotiate. Listen. Compromise.
  • Provide opportunities for your child to connect with their other parent. Let both parents enjoy one-on-one time with each child as well as periods of time in which each parent has sole responsibility for all the children. We not only connect through the fun experiences but through the daily chores of parenting—changing diapers, doing household chores together, engaging in activities together, and even running errands together.
  • Never “bad mouth” your child’s other parent. No name-calling, undermining, or demeaning. Encourage your children to respect and honor their other parent through your example as well as your instruction.
  • Keep your child’s other parent up-to-date. Communicate appointments and activities. Share information about physical changes or needs, friends, and community involvement.
  • Disagree in private. You will inevitably have disagreements with the other parent. When you do, wait until you are alone with them before discussing the disagreement. Ask them about their perception, intent, and motive rather than jumping to a negative assumption. After hearing their intent and motives, explain your concerns. Listen. Negotiate. Compromise.
  • Discipline together. Don’t leave the discipline to one parent. Both parents need to assist in discipline. Support one another in discipline. If you disagree, disagree in private. Your children will benefit from seeing you and their other parent working together for their good.
  • Communicate. Listen. Express yourself. Listen. Communicate.

These practices will help you nurture a positive relationship with your children’s other parent. That strong coparenting relationship will help decrease your children’s behavioral problems. It will also increase their social competence. Those two outcomes are well worth nurturing a positive coparenting relationship.

Help Your Teen Stop Ruminating

Teens have repetitive thoughts; actually, we all do. Those thoughts can become ruminations when teens (or adults) start to think obsessively about them. Ruminating on negative thoughts will increase a person’s level of stress and discomfort. It can also lead to anxiety and depression. It hinders and even prevents us from experiencing a happier, more satisfying life. But can we change those ruminating thoughts? If so, how can we teach our teens to stop ruminating on negative thoughts? The answer to the first question is “Yes, we can change those ruminating thoughts and even learn to ruminate less.” A study involving 145 teens helps us answer the second question by exploring how to teach teens to stop their ruminating thoughts.

To begin the experiment, researchers induced a negative mood in the teens who had volunteered for the study. They did this by creating a feeling of exclusion for each teen. Then they split the teens into four groups: two “rumination groups” and two “distraction groups.” The “rumination groups” were prompted to ruminate using verbal thoughts in one group and mental imagery (mental pictures) in the other group. Likewise, the “distraction group” was prompted to distract themselves using verbal thoughts in one group or mental imagery in the other group. While each of the four groups followed their prompts, the researchers monitored the activity of their heart and skin conductance (measures of stress). In addition, the teens rated their “current emotional state” at four different points during the study. What did the researchers discover?

Teens ruminate using both verbal thoughts and mental imagery. This study showed that both verbal rumination and rumination using mental imagery had an equally negative impact on the teen’s mood.

On the other hand, mental imagery proved more effective and powerful than verbal thoughts in distracting the teens from ruminating. Mental imagery, in other words, was more effective at stopping ruminating thoughts. Why? Because focusing on a mental image, a mental picture, required more effort and consumed more mental space. So, what does this mean for you and your teen?

You can use this finding to help your teen manage their emotions, to help them learn how to not be overwhelmed with worry and anxiety. In other words, you can use this information to help our teens stop ruminating. First, begin by practicing the use of mental imagery yourself. Our teens learn best from our example. When worried thoughts begin to pile up in your mind, invest your energy in creating a mental image unrelated to the worry. For instance, you might focus on your favorite vacation spot. In the study described above, the mental image was simply “a lemon in various conditions.”  I like to suggest people use a silly image at times—like a sky-blue Volkswagen being driven by a giraffe whose neck and head stick out the sky light while a pink elephant sits crammed into the passenger seat.  Pick your image. Let it be one that brings a chuckle or a sense of peace. Focus on the sensations inherent in the image—the colors, smells, physical sensations, sounds, etc. Let the image fill your mind.

Second, teach your children and teens how to use this skill. Teach them to pick a mental image that will utilize the mental energy currently deployed in the service of ruminating and fill them with a sense of peace or give them a chuckle instead.

Of course, you still want to do whatever you can to respond to any reasonable concern (worry). For instance, picturing yourself on a beach can reduce excessive and unnecessary worry about an upcoming test, but it won’t help you pass the test. Only studying will do that. And studying will also reduce your worry about passing the test. Which gives rise to the third point. Do the work necessary to address the concern. Sometimes the best way to beat the worry and anxiety of rumination is to actually get to work and address the concern.

Don’t let rumination interfere with your teen’s contentment and joy in life. Teach them, by example and instruction, to do the work necessary to address any legitimate concern. If ruminating thoughts persist, teach them to utilize mental imagery to stop the rumination.

The Key to Happiness for You & Your Family

Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz authored a book entitled The Good Life: Lessons From the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness.  One of the authors (Waldinger) is the current director of the ongoing and longest-running study on happiness being conducted at Harvard. The study has been gathering data since the 1930’s. Throughout this study, one thing has continuously shown to “demonstrate its broad and enduring importance” to happiness. What is it? Good relationships. It’s true. Relationships contribute to happiness more than achievement, money, or health. We are a people designed for relationships. Healthy relationships make us happy. So, if you want to be happier, nurture your relationships.

I suggest that you start by nurturing a healthy relationship with your spouse. Invest in your marriage. You can nurture your marriage by:

  • Looking for and telling your spouse things you adore and admire about them.
  • Talking about your day with your spouse.
  • Expressing gratitude to your spouse for all they do for you, your family, and your home.
  • Sharing a hug and a kiss every time you separate and reunite…and sometimes just because you love them.
  • Accepting influence from your spouse. Men, be the leader in accepting influence (AKA-submission) in your family.
  • Going on a date, even if it’s a “stay-at-home date” (sometimes they’re the best).
  • Praying for one another.

Invest in your relationship with your children as well.

  • Make the time to engage your children every day. You might engage them in a conversation or in a game. However you choose to do it, make time for your children every day.
  • Be curious about their interests and dreams. Nurture and support those interests.
  • Learn about the friends in your children’s lives. Also learn about those peers who grieve them somehow.
  • Share appropriate physical affection with your children.
  • Let your children live their dreams. In fact, support and encourage those dreams.
  • Pray for your children.

Invest in your relationship with your parents.

  • Enjoy time with your parents. Visit them. Talk with them on the phone.
  • Share your dreams for the future with your parents.
  • Listen to their stories of the past…and learn from those stories.
  • Give your parents a hug.
  • Pray for your parents.

Your spouse and your family cannot provide all the relationships you need. Invest in your relationships with friends.

  • Make time to get together with friends.
  • Go on double dates.
  • Get your families together.

Relationships are the spice of life…and they begin in the family. Nurture your relationships to nurture your happiness. And, when you start in the home, you’re also nurturing the happiness of your spouse and your children.

Will Becoming a Parent Strengthen or Weaken Your Marriage

Will becoming a parent strengthen or weaken your marriage? Well, it depends. Becoming a parent carries a great deal of responsibility. It demands our time and our efforts. It occupies our mind 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s no wonder then, that the demanding responsibilities of becoming a parent can either strengthen or weaken our marriages. Why does it strengthen some and weaken others? What makes the difference?  More importantly, how can we make sure that parenting will strengthen our marriages and not weaken them? Those are good questions. Here are five aspects of parenting that will determine whether becoming a parent strengthens or weakens your relationship to your spouse, the “love of your life.”

  • Your ability to accept your differences. Let’s face it. No one marries a clone of themselves. (And really, who would want to?) You are different than our spouse. All that being said, you and your spouse will likely have some different ideas when it comes to parenting. You will have different ways of interacting with your children. For instance, men often tend to engage in more rough-and-tumble play while women often seem more nurturing and comforting. Sure, men comfort and women play, but generally speaking, men and women engage their children differently. And our children benefit from both types of interactions. Accept those differences.
  • Your ability to compromise. You and your spouse have different backgrounds. You likely experienced different styles of parenting when you were growing up in your respective homes. Discuss those differences in parenting ideology. Share your ideas with one another. Then, compromise. Yes. Compromise. Pick the best of both styles of parenting and compromise. If you struggle to compromise, seek advice from a mentor or counselor.
  • Your ability and determination to support one another. Becoming a parent can arouse every insecurity you ever had. You will likely second guess yourself and wonder if you’re doing the right thing or not. And sometimes you will make mistakes. (Fortunately love covers a multitude of mistakes.) When you have doubts, find a quiet place with your spouse and ask them for input. And if you disagree with something your spouse does as a parent, don’t disagree and fight about it in front of your children. Instead, find a quiet place where you can talk with your spouse one-on-one about what happened. Share ideas. Come up with a plan of how you can both respond “the next time” a similar situation arises. In other words, support one another. Invest as a couple 100% but agree that when one needs a rest, the other will “pick up the slack.” Work together. Compliment. Encourage. Support one another.
  • Communicate. All three of the suggestions so far involve one thing: Communication. Learn to communicate with your spouse in a respectful, loving way. Approach with love. Speak gently and calmly. Listen intently and fully. Communication is the heart of a life-long marriage.
  • Invest in your marriage. It is easy to get so caught up in raising children that your marriage “gets put on the back burner.” Don’t let that happen. One of the greatest gifts you can provide for your children is a happy marriage. Let them bear witness to your love. Allow them to see you give your spouse a simple hug and kiss…often. Let them hear you tell your spouse, “I love you” every day. Sure, they will say “Ewww.” But knowing you love one another will also provide them with a sense of security. So, plan regular date nights. Take time to encourage your children to “entertain themselves” while you and your spouse talk about the day. Let your children know that your spouse is your first love and will continue to be your love, even after they have “flown the coup.”  Invest in your marriage.     

Will becoming a parent strengthen or weaken your marriage? It depends on your intentional effort to accept your differences, compromise, support one another, communicate, and invest in your marriage. Practice wisely and give your children the precious gift of witnessing their parents in a stronger, healthier marriage.

Boost Your Child’s Motivation…How?

Most parents have experienced the struggle of motivating their children to complete homework, do a chore, “get a job,” or any number of other things. It can become a huge exercise in frustration as parents try alternative ways of motivating their children. Sometimes we offer our children financial rewards to help motivate them. Sometimes that works…sometimes it doesn’t. But, one study found that framing those rewards differently actually boosts motivation by 50%.

In this study, participants were rewarded in one of two ways for engaging in daily exercise. One group received $1.40 each day they exercised for 30 days (they gained a reward). Another group was given $42 at the beginning of the 30-day study and had $1.40 taken away each day they did not exercise (they lost their reward). A third group was simply asked to exercise daily for 30 days (no reward). Guess which group exercised most often. You got it. The group that received a daily reward ($1.40 a day) did NOT exercise significantly more than the group that was simply asked to exercise. But the group that would lose $1.40 each day they did not exercise actually exercised 50% more days than the other two groups. The potential for losing the reward boosted motivation 50% over the potential of gaining a reward.

What does this mean for a parent? If you give your child an allowance, you might want to consider changing how you do it. Rather than giving your child their allowance at the end of the week for the work they have already done, give them an allowance at the start of the week by placing it in a jar or someplace else where they can see it. For each chore not completed, take a predetermined amount of money out of the jar. (Let them loose their reward.) Inform your children that they “paid you” to do the chore. Let them see how their money “slips away” as they neglect their chores. In other words, let them lose their reward as a consequence of neglecting their chores. Then, at the end of the week, give them what is left. The potential for losing the allowance (the reward) may just motivate them more than having to earn an unseen reward.

Have a Conversation & Call Me in the Morning…Doctor’s Orders

All of us want to enjoy a happy, low stress life. Perhaps even more, we want our children to have a happy, low stress life. I’d like to say if found a way to make that happen 100% of the time…unfortunately, I can’t.  But a recent study suggests that one simple activity, done on a daily basis, will lead to a greater sense of well-being, reduced stress and greater happiness. 

The study involved 900 participants and revealed that engaging in one quality conversation during the day led to a greater sense of well-being at the end of the day. If the person engaged in more than one quality conversations during the day, they experienced an even greater sense of well-being.  Not surprisingly, “face-to-face” communication was more closely related with well-being than electronic or social media contact. A quality conversation may include catching up with a friend, joking around, listening, discussing a meaningful topic, sharing opinions in a manner to promote mutual understanding, or offering sincere compliments. With this information in mind, how can you encourage daily conversation for your family members? After all, doing so will contribute to a greater sense of well-being for your spouse and children.

First, enjoy conversation within your family. I know it sounds obvious but talk to one another every day. Talk about your day, current events, or future plans. Share your fear, joys, sorrows, and moments of pride with one another.  Remember, you don’t need to agree to have a quality conversation. You do need to listen, understand, appreciate, and accept.

Second, encourage friendships. Allow your family to get involved in various groups in which they can develop friendships. Your children and your spouse (even you) will benefit from opportunities to have meaningful relationships and meaningful conversations outside the home. To help your child do this, you may become their friendship coach.

Pretty simple, right? Enjoy conversations within your family. Encourage friendships in which family members can enjoy conversations with those outside your family. As the authors of this study said, the “more you listen, the more you show you care, the more you take time to value other people’s opinions, the more you connect, the better you… will feel at the end of the day….” and so will your family.

Your Answer Will Ripple Through the Generations

Let me ask you a question: “How do you feel about feelings?” Some people “feel” that feelings are dangerous. Others “feel” that feelings make them soft and vulnerable. As a result, they are fearful that feelings leave them unsafe, or, dismissive of feelings that make them weak. All these responses lead people to ignore feelings and to teach their children to do the same. In fact, they may even punish children for having feelings—for instance, sending them into isolation (their room) until they “calm down, quit crying, or learn to talk politely.” Although this may alleviate a parent’s discomfort with their child’s emotions, it also serves to rob their child of the opportunity to learn ways of communicating their emotions to others and of effectively regulating their emotions in themselves. Robbed of these skills, children have a greater risk for depression, angry outbursts, and anxiety. They may act impulsively and exhibit a lack of empathy as well.

Fortunately, there is a way of “feeling about feelings” that proves more beneficial to families and their children. This involves “emotional coaching.” Families who practice emotional coaching “feel” that feelings are expressions of priorities and values. They believe that emotions represent things of importance to the person with the feeling. On the flip side, they know that expression of emotion also gives everyone else in the family important information about that person’s character and priorities.

Emotions are like an “open book” revealing a person’s deeper values and interests.  By recognizing and accepting each person’s emotions, the family learns about each other’s nuanced interests and values. Each person learns to open up and communicate their feelings. This, in turn, allows for greater intimacy and support. In addition, people learn to become aware of emotions before they escalate in themselves and others. They have greater self-awareness, and so better self-regulation. They have a better ability to recognize emotions in others and so a better sense of empathy.

As you can imagine, dismissing emotions and coaching emotions will have an immense impact on your family and your children. And which one you choose will create a ripple that will impact your family through the generations for better or worse.

To let your family benefit from the “better side” of this ripple effect, practice emotional coaching. Learn to be accepting of emotions. Remember, emotions are not good or bad in and of themselves. They simply provide information about priorities and things of value. Accept the emotion. Listen to the emotion. Validate the feeling and the priority under the emotion.  As you listen and show empathy for your child’s emotions, your child will learn the value of emotions.

Don’t stop by simply listening and validating. Take the next step and label your children’s emotions. By labeling their emotions, you help them develop an emotional vocabulary. Having an emotional vocabulary will help your child manage their emotions in an effective manner. It gives them a vocabulary with which to express themselves and their emotions, which can lead to greater intimacy and better problem-solving.

When your child knows you accept and understand their feelings, they will likely begin to “calm down” and regain emotional control. At that point, you can discuss how they might want to respond to whatever is arousing that emotion within them. This problem-solving will include how they might address the priority behind the emotion in a way that will best promote that priority.   

These three steps will begin to help you become an emotional coach for your child. As you continue practicing emotional coaching with your children and yourself, the benefits will ripple through your family for generations.

Your Daughter’s Body Image, Humor, & You

Humor is a powerful method of communication. In fact, how a woman uses humor can impact her body image. And do you know who contributes to how your daughter learns to use humor? You…her parent. But I get ahead of myself. Let me return to “how a woman uses humor can impact her body image.”

Research completed at the University of Surrey and published in the fall of 2022 surveyed 216 women to analyze their style of humor and their body perception. The styles of humor included coping humor, self-enhancing humor, and self-defeating humor. Coping humor represents a person’s general use of humor to cope with stressful events. Self-enhancing humor represents a person’s ability to see the “absurdities of life, even when alone,” and then use those observations in a humorous way to maintain positive levels of self-esteem. Self-defeating humor, on the other hand, often involves self-denigrating comments about “my” self-perceived weaknesses in an attempt to connect with others. (Can you see where this is going?)

Results indicated:

  • Coping humor was only associated with less body criticism, but not with “body positive” attributes like appreciating one’s body and recognizing the common humanity of various body types (body kindness).
  • Self-enhancing humor, on the other hand, was associated with higher levels of body appreciation and body kindness. It was also associated with less emotional eating than those who used self-defeating humor.
  • Self-defeating humor was associated with higher body criticism, lower engagement in body appreciation, a higher drive for thinness (defined as excessive concern about dieting and weight gain), and increased emotional eating.

What does this mean for our families? We want our daughters to learn the benefits of humor—specifically, coping humor and self-enhancing humor. We want them to experience the benefits of using humor in a healthy way not in a self-defeating way. (“Don’t take my picture, I might break your camera.” “Slow down, my short legs barely reach the ground.”) 

As stated above, our daughters learn their sense of humor from us, their parents. They will model the way we use humor about ourselves. They will repeat how we use humor about them as well. As a result, we need to use wisdom in our humor. Focus on humor that lifts people up (including ourselves) and enhances those around us, especially our daughters. It will help our daughters have a better body image, a greater level of kindness toward themselves and their body, and a higher level of motivation to care for their body in healthy ways.  So, before you crack that joke about eating or clothes or some other pointed topic…think twice. Only use humor in love and kindness.

Want Your Child to Listen Better? Then Play!

Children don’t always listen the way we’d like. Who are we kidding? Adults don’t always listen the way we’d like either. In fact, I don’t always listen as attentively as I know I should. Come to think of it, if children learn to listen by following our examples, it’s no wonder they don’t listen the way we’d like. Sorry, I digress. I just want to share an activity you can utilize to help your children listen better. This activity also gives us, as parents, the experience of listening deeply to our children. What is the activity? Play.

Yes, playing with our children will help them listen better.  Not just any type of play activity though. I’m talking about imaginative play activities like drawing, dolls, building, or dress up.

And not just play with anyone, but with you—their parent. This is an opportunity for you to enjoy time with your child and learn about them. Children become close to those who engage in activities with them. This becomes an opportunity for you to deepen your relationship with your child. A deeper relationship will contribute to their ability to listen to you in the future.

And not just any type of play will do for this activity. No, for this activity engage your child in child-directed play, play in which you follow their lead. They become the leader and you follow. They determine the direction and course of the play. As a parent engaged in this type of play, avoid giving directions, ideas, or suggestions. Simply follow their lead.

Researchers have developed the acronym P.R.I.D.E. to help parents know how to respond to their child while engaging in child-directed play. The “P” in PRIDE stands for “Praising” your child. I prefer to say, “Acknowledge what your child is doing.” Acknowledge specific things about your child’s speech, actions, or work rather than global aspects. For example, “I love the bright colors you dress Barbie in” or “That is a tall tower” rather than simply “How pretty,” “You’re good with fashions,” or “Good job.” Specific acknowledgements (praise) prove more effective than global acknowledgement. Also, acknowledge behaviors you want to encourage in your child. For example, “Thank you for letting me take a turn” or “You asked so politely, thank you.”

The “R” in PRIDE reminds us to reflect verbally on our children’s description of the play. For instance, if your child says, “The tower falls down” as they knock it over, you might reflect by saying, “Ahhh. The tower falls with a crash.”

The “I” in PRIDE prompts us to imitate our children’s play. Imitate them by engaging in parallel play or by following their directive on how to interact. If they dress a doll, you can dress another doll (parallel play). If their doll interacts with your doll, reciprocate (interact). If they build with Legos, you build with Legos (parallel play). If they say, “I need green ones,” hand them some green Legos (interact). Engage in parallel play and follow their directives on how to interact.

The “D” in PRIDE advises us to describe what our children are doing. Act like a sportscaster and narrate your child’s play. “Barbie is putting on a pretty blue dress.” “You just put a red Lego on that tall tower.” “You are standing tall as the king of your kingdom.”  Simply describing your child’s actions informs them that you arere engaged in their play and interest in them…that you are “listening” to them deeply.

The “E” in PRIDE stands for enthusiasm. Engage your child in this child-directed play with your full attention and with an appropriate level of energy. You don’t need to go overboard with a level of energetic enthusiasm that overwhelms your child. Simply responding with “Wow, those are lovely colors” communicates your interest in them and their world. A simple smile or a high five can fill a child with joy. The main goal is to show your child, through your words and actions, that you are genuinely and authentically interested in them and happy to interact with them. In other words, they are valuable to you.

The good news is that research has shown this type of play strengthens the parent-child relationship. And a stronger relationship leads to better listening. Research also suggests that this type of play increases a child’s attention span and social skills.  I believe it also teaches us, as parents, how to listen deeply to our children…and children who feel heard listen better, especially to those they feel listen to them.

Now for the fun part. Grab your child and model how well you can listen by engaging them in child-directed play. You’ll enjoy the play and the relationship you gain as a result.

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