Tag Archive for emotional development

Teach Your Children the Wisdom of Queen Elsa

A recent study led by University of Miami psychologists pointed to an important skill to teach our children. The study looked at the way we process and manage negative incidents in our lives. Although it did not deal with families and their children directly, it still revealed a skill crucial for healthy families and their children to develop.

In this study, participants completed a questionnaire about their well-being. Then they reported daily stressful events, positive emotions, and negative emotions for a week via nightly phone calls.  Finally, they underwent an fMRI while viewing 60 positive images and 60 negative images interspersed with 60 neutral images. Putting all this data together, the researchers found that the sooner participants let negative images (incidents) go, the more positive emotions and the fewer negative emotions they experienced in their daily lives. Thus, the wisdom of Queen Elsa in Frozen…”Let It Go.”

Unfortunately, letting go of negative emotions and events does not seem to come naturally to many of our children (or to adults for that matter). So how can we practice letting it go and teach our children to do the same? Here are 3 ideas.

  1. Catch the emotion and analyze it. Are there thoughts that make the emotions stronger or more intense? What thoughts perpetuate it and keep it going? Are you thinking that the situation arousing this emotion effects a specific part of your day or that it is “ruining the whole day” or everything about the day? Do you think of it as a temporary setback or permanent disruption? Do you think of areas in which you can influence the next steps or is it all the fault and responsibility of others, the surrounding circumstances, or fate? How you think about the incident or situation which aroused the emotion will impact how you feel. Analyze the thoughts under the emotion and change them when necessary.
  2. Observe the emotion…then let it go.  Recognize the emotion. Label the emotion. Observe how it feels in the body—its shape and color even. Consider if it changes or moves around in your body. Observe how the emotion differs from a thought. Observe how you know the emotion is a part of you, only a part of you but not all of you. You are more than the emotion. Then, take a deep breath and visualize the emotion floating away like a snowflake on the breeze… or rolling away like a snowball down a hill. Let it go! (For more ideas on observing & letting go read Your Child’s Toolbox for Self-Soothing.)
  3. Melt your body and the emotion with it. Breath…inhaling for a count of 3, exhaling for a count of 6, then sit quietly for a second or two to notice the quietness in your body before repeating the process. Continue breathing as you imagine yourself in a place that makes you feel calm and happy. Perhaps you will visualize a beach, a mountain vista, a bike ride, or sitting at the pool with friends. You can also do a body relaxation exercise. Imagine your body melting into a state of relaxation. Feel the muscles relax.

By learning to let go of negative emotions and teaching our children to do the same, we give our families a precious gift. We give them the ability to enjoy more positive moments in their life. Don’t you want your children to have that gift?

Book Review: Hunt, Gather, Parent

Michaeleen Doucleff, the author of Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans, was looking for guidance on raising her strong-willed, rambunctious 3-year-old. As any good investigative journalist would do, she began to research the “options.” And the most effective ideas and parenting guidance she discovered came from sources flung to the far ends of the world. With daughter in tow, she visited a variety of indigenous peoples—a Mayan village in Mexico, Inuit families in the Arctic Circle, and Hadzabe families in Tanzania—to gain some very useful parenting advice. And I loved it. Some of the reviews I read were critical of various aspects of this book. For instance, they accused her of a gender bias, espousing parenting techniques of indigenous peoples as though they have no counterparts in Western parenting guidance (in fact, they are similar to Montessori or RIE parenting), and “framing tribal parents as eternally happy, and Western parents…as miserable victims of circumstances.”

I don’t know about all that…but I do know our society gets so caught up in finding fault and criticizing where a work (in our opinion) falls short , where we think it won’t work, or simply what’s wrong with it…rather than looking at the good gifts the work offers for many situations and people. And Hunt, Gather, Parent offers many excellent gifts. It offers wonderful advice to parents about effective ways of raising their children, advice that both fathers and mothers can apply.

This advice is founded, in part, on a parent’s perspective of children. Are children simply miniature adults that we can expect to behave appropriately? Or are they children who need to learn how to behave, manage emotions, and do tasks we call chores? Hadzabe parents offered Ms. Doucleff an excellent answer. In addition to this, Michaeleen Doucleff learned practical ways to remain calm when her child engages in tantrum behavior, how to encourage cooperation rather than control, and how to meet personalized needs rather than expect developmental milestones. She also talks with a variety of experts along the way to learn more about what she was witnessing and putting into practice.

All in all, this book is filled with gifts for every parent—great ideas and practical takeaways every parent will find helpful, all wrapped in a warm storytelling style. Use what you can, and you will not only find your children’s behavior improving, but your relationship with your children improving as well. And isn’t that what we all want?

4 Great “BUT’s” of Parenting

We love to see our children happy BUT we don’t want to spoil them to keep them happy. We want to provide a nice home and plenty of healthy opportunities for our children to grow BUT we don’t want to feel guilty about spending too much time away from our children earning the money to make those opportunities a possibility. We want, dare I say need, adult time with friends BUT we don’t want our children to feel unloved or abandoned.

Yes, parenting is a bit of a balancing act BUT the 4 “BUTS” below can help you find the proper balance.

  1. Children benefit from the opportunity to express their emotions, including anger; BUT they can remain polite and kind as they do. I met one mother who allowed her 6-year-old son to smack her repeatedly when he was angry. She felt he needed to express his anger.  In reality, children benefit from learning to manage their anger and other emotions, not express it through violence. Part of learning to manage our emotions is learning to utilize the energy of an emotion to meet the need that contributes to that emotion…and doing so in a positive manner.
  2. There is an appropriate time for a parent to apologize; BUT simply because your child is disappointed is not one of those times. Sure, a parent needs to apologize if they lose their cool for no good reason or accidentally say something that hurts their child’s feelings. BUT there is no need to apologize because your child is simply disappointed for not getting everything they want when they want it. In fact, it’s healthy to learn that sometimes we can’t have everything we want because it’s too expensive, too time consuming, or we already have more than we need.
  3. No parent likes to see their child engage in tantrum behavior; BUT “giving in” to their tantrum behavior only increases the chances that they’ll tantrum again. “Giving in” to tantrum behavior empowers your child. It teaches them that tantrum behavior works, it gets them just what they want when they want it. If it works, it’s powerful. And who doesn’t repeat what works? Rather than “giving in” to their tantrum behavior, ignore it. If they tantrum in public, calmly escort your child to a more private place and wait for them to stop.  Once they calm down, talk about what may have led to the tantrum. They may have a genuine concern to address. If so, address it. And talk about healthier ways to communicate their needs and their emotions.
  4. Children have a right to be disappointed with a limit or rule; BUT you don’t have to argue to justify the rule. It is alright for children to get disappointed. It’s a part of life. And it’s alright for children to want to know the reason behind a limit or rule.  Simply state the rule and the intent of the rule, then refuse to argue about it. Make sure the rule is appropriate and actually accomplishes what you intend, then stick with it. If there is wiggle room, you might discuss it (not argue about it) with your children. Let them give the reasons they believe the rule might be changed. Then tell them you will think about it and get back to them. Perhaps you’ll change it and explain why you. Perhaps you will not change it and you’ll simply explain why you chose not to change it. No arguing. Just stating it once. (Read Help, My Child ALWAYS Argues With Me for ideas on what to do instead of arguing.)

These four great “buts” of parenting can help bring balance and clarity to your parenting goals.

What Are We Teaching Our Children?

I was speaking to a father in my office when his 2-year-old daughter brought him an Etch-A-Sketch from the toy shelf. Tapping the screen, she said, “I-pad broke, Daddy. I-pad broke.” We both smiled.

Perhaps you’ve seen a parent in a store or restaurant carting a somewhat fussy toddler. In frustration, they hand their toddler their cell phone and, voila, a calm toddler. Infant toddler media use is on the rise. Parents report that on average, children younger than 2-years-old spend about an hour a day of screen time. Children between 0- and 8-years-old read, or are read to, about half an hour a day while spending an average of an hour and 25 minutes engaged in screen time. Even more, 19% of the parents in the survey reported using media to regulate their children’s emotions “often” and 36% reported doing this “some of the time.” (Read more here.) What are we teaching our children with all this? Unfortunately, we may be teaching them to reach for their media devices when upset or bored, increasing the risk of a media addiction.  Another study found that toddlers were more likely to tantrum in response to frustration when their parents used media to help them stay calm.

“But my child can’t wait patiently at the restaurant… or sit in the car for a long drive… or get through a store without a screen. They’ll have a meltdown.” That’s good news. It means you have a great opportunity to teach your children better ways to regulate their emotion and their boredom. Here are some ways you can help.

  • Prepare ahead of time. Bring some simple activities to distract or engage your child. This might include small toys, dolls, picture books, or stickers. Be creative and bring whatever small thing might entertain your child. (For one idea read Teach Your Child the Art of Waiting.)
  • Accept and validate their emotions. I know I get bored on a long car ride. It’s easy to get frustrated at the supermarket. If we as adults have these experiences, our children probably do, too. Label their emotion for them. Empathize with them. Even comfort and soothe them.
  • Label their emotions when they get upset. Children benefit from gaining an “emotional vocabulary.” Having a word to use in expressing an emotion increases their ability to manage that emotion in a healthy way. (Learn 6 Ways to Make Your Children’s Emotions Your Friend.)
  • Engage your child’s help. Even 2-year-olds enjoy helping” Mommy and Daddy.” Set them on the lookout for the picture on their favorite cereal box. Talk through your decision between apples or oranges with them. Make the journey a mystery. “I wonder what we’ll find in this aisle?” Engage them in the activity through playful interactions, conversation, and simple decision-making.
  • In the process, enjoy time with your child. Children seem to have a “second sense” about whether their parents are upset, frustrated, or happy. And, younger children take their emotional cues from their parent. Whey you enjoy time with your child, it is more likely they’ll enjoy time with you.

How to Give Your Children the Memories of a Lifetime

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

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

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

Dad’s Superpower & Children’s Self-Control

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

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

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

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

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

That Glorious Fight with Your Teen

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

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

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

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

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

It’s All Fun & Games Until… It’s Something More

Teaching our children to be helpful and generous is all fun and games…at least in part. That is what I learned from a study published in November 2014. Actually, it was a series of four studies. The first study involved 1- and 2-year-olds assigned to one of two groups. In the first group, a researcher engaged a child in reciprocal play such as rolling a ball back and forth, pushing buttons on a musical toy together, or handing large rings to one another. In the second group, the researcher engaged in parallel paly with the child. Specifically, the researcher played with one set of toys while the child played with another set of toys.  After six minutes, the researcher acted as though they needed help reaching an object. Those who had engaged in reciprocal play helped the researcher get the object significantly more often than those who had engaged in parallel play.

The second study involved assigning children to the same two groups as the first study. It also added a third group in which the researcher merely sat nearby and talked to the child while he played. This time, the researcher left the room and a second researcher, who did not know which child was in which group, came into the room and exhibited a need for help. Once again, those who had engaged in reciprocal play helped significantly more often, even though the person they helped was unknown to them, a stranger.

The third study involved 3- and 4-year-olds in the same two groups as the first study: a reciprocal play group and a parallel play group. As in the second study, the researcher left the room and an assistant carried out the rest of the study. This time, rather than asking for help, the researcher offered the child 6 opportunities to give stickers to him- or herself or to the absent experimenter through the assistant. Guess what. Those engaged in reciprocal play were significantly more generous.

Finally, in a fourth study involving 4-year-olds the researcher asked two assistants to play with the child while he left the room to complete a task. One assistant engaged the child in reciprocal play for one minute. The other engaged in parallel play with the child for a minute. Then the experimenter returned. He showed the children a picture of the two assistants and asked them to point to the one they thought would give them a gift, help them open a door, or share a toy with them. The children consistently pointed to the one who engaged in reciprocal play with them.

These studies suggest that engaging our children in interactive play—play that involves sharing, taking turns, working together—nurtures their willingness to show kindness to others, even those they do not know but trust. It also increased their tendency to act generously toward others. Generous and kind children…triggered by our own interactive play with them. Simply playing a different game next to them did not promote kindness or generosity. Neither did sitting next to them and talking while they played. Getting involved in their play, interacting with them—tossing a ball back and forth, sharing play objects (dolls), or working on a project together (Legos)—promoted kindness and generosity. In other words, teaching our children to be generous and kind is all fun and games. So, be generous enough to kindly give your children the time to interact with them in play…and they will grow in kindness and generosity as well.

Parents as Emotional Containment Pods

A teen’s life is full of emotions. They can be happy one moment and angry the next…down in the dumps one moment, then turn around, and be on top of the world.  I’m sure you’ve seen it. School and community do not provide a safe place for them to unload these emotions. Instead, our teens endure the tedious demands of teachers, authority figures, and other teens while they go through their day at school or wander through the community. They put up with annoying peers with whom they need to interact as they navigate the teen challenges of becoming their own person and learn to differentiate from their family. Amazingly, they do this all with a great deal of grace.

Then, they come home. The frustrations, angers, annoyances, hurts, sorrows, and tears of the day remain bottled up until they release them, pour them out right onto us, their emotional containment pods. Yes, as a parent we get the privilege of serving as emotional containment pods for our teens. I say privilege because they come to us, a person they consider safe and who lives with them in a place they consider safe, to let it all out. They are comfortable enough with us to let all the uncomfortable feelings roll right out of their mouth and onto us. We help them contain the mess. We help them manage the emotions and navigate the frustrations. They have given us an opportunity to support them because they trust us! Unfortunately, knowing this does not make it easier for us to manage the frustration of experiencing their emotions wash over us and fill us.  But here are some tips that might help.

  • Remind yourself that you are providing them a way to unload stress so they can “keep it together” while at school and in the community. In addition, this provides an opportunity to teach problem-solving. But, before you move into any problem solving, listen.
  • Listen. Listening will teach your children that you value them.  It also informs them that their emotions are not overwhelming to you, you can handle them. You can help them manage the emotions, contain them in a healthy way.
  • Confirm whether your child wants to vent or complain. Venting simply expresses frustration and allows the “venter” to feel better because they have been listened to and heard. If your child simply wants to vent, listen, empathize, and listen some more.  Complaining, on the other hand, conveys the message that someone else needs to fix the problem. It takes no time to look at the areas of the difficulty “I” can influence. It leaves the complainer helpless. The complainer never feels better. Complaining does not accomplish anything. If your child wants to complain, move to the next bullet.
  • Help your child learn the difference between problems over which they have influence and those they cannot solve. Help them learn where their responsibility begins and ends. Help them determine what aspects of the problem they have influence over. When they have discovered those areas of influence, help them think through a plan of response. For those areas over which they have no influence, encourage them to learn to “accept the things they cannot change.”
  • Set limits. We want to have more relationship with our children than just listening to them vent. Encourage them to tell you positive events of the day as well. Also, sometimes our teens have bad days. They are irritable and snap out at family. They punish their family for their own bad mood with cutting remarks and snarky comments. It is a fair limit to say, “You can vent, I’ll listen. You can come to me and we can problem solve. But, we will not allow you to mistreat us.”

Teen years are filled with stress and emotion. Fortunately, these emotions provide a wonderful opportunity to grow closer with your teen and guide them toward greater maturity.