Your spouse and your marriage represent two of the most precious gifts you can ever receive. I know this is true for me. They are wonderful gifts. When we take care of these two gifts, they bring us a lifetime of joy. But, if we neglect or abuse these gifts, they result in a lifetime of pain. So how do we take care of these precious gifts? Many things come to mind, but here are a dozen things you can do every day to take care of these two gifts.
- Tell your spouse what you need. Your spouse is not a mind reader. Don’t expect them to read your mind and then get angry because they can’t do it. Politely, lovingly tell them what you need.
- Take your spouse’s sensitivities and vulnerabilities seriously. This means you becoming a student of your spouse. Learn about your spouse’s sensitivities. They often stem from life experiences. Do not make light of those sensitivities. Do not use them against your spouse. Instead, acknowledge them. Respect them. Treat your spouse with care, keeping their vulnerabilities and sensitivities in mind.
- Make it a habit to express adoration and admiration to your spouse every day. Say “I love you” every day. Look for opportunities to not only recognize traits you love about your spouse but to tell them what you love about them every day. Share physical affection—a hug, a kiss on the cheek, holding hands, a touch on the arm—with your spouse daily. Appreciate your spouse every day.
- Recognize and express gratitude to your spouse every day. Once again, look for opportunities to thank your spouse for the daily, multiple things they do for you, your family, and your home.
- Take responsibility for any mistakes you make. We all make mistakes. We say hurtful things. We forget to complete tasks. Take responsibility. Admit your mistake. Then “bear the fruit” of repentance. Your spouse will love you for it.
- Treat your spouse with respect and dignity in your words and actions. Speak with kindness. Engage in polite deeds toward your spouse. Serve your spouse.
- Support and encourage your spouse’s dreams. Once again, this means becoming a student of your spouse to learn about their dreams and how you can support those dreams.
- Share emotions with your spouse. Weep with your spouse when they weep. Rejoice with your spouse when they rejoice. Take time to share in their emotions. And, have the courage to express your deep emotions to your spouse so they can share in your emotions as well.
- Set boundaries to protect your marriage. Remain faithful. Do not let people, work, children, or even volunteering come between you and your spouse.
- Pursue peace. Strive to create a peaceful, relaxed home for your family.
- Encourage your spouse and build them up. Compliment your spouse. Acknowledge their strengths as well as those things they do in the home and community.
- Turn toward your spouse when problems arise. Turn toward your spouse for times of joy. Turn toward your spouse simply to connect in everyday life. Turn toward your partner and work as a team to navigate the complexities of life.
Yes, marriage is a gift. Your spouse is a gift. Treat both with care and love. When you do, you will experience a lifetime of joy.
Words have power. An ancient king once wrote, “Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit” (King Solomon—Proverbs 15:4, NLT). Our relationships are built up or torn down by our words. I want to focus on how words, our words, can build our families up. For instance, our words can make our spouse and children feel welcome in the home. They can promote their sense of belonging. Simple words, like:
- “I’m glad you’re home from school (work) now. I missed you.”
- “I have a job that you can really help me with. I know you would be good at it. Will you help me?”
- “I’m glad we were able to spend this time together. I enjoyed your company.”
- “I’d love to share an ice cream with you. Do you have time to get some now or would another time be better.”
Our words also inform our family of their importance to us, that they hold a significant place in our lives. They let our family know how we keep them in mind, even when they are not physically present.
- “I was thinking about all the fun we’ve had together. Remember when….”
- “I heard a song on the car radio that made me think of you.”
- “I remembered how much you like…. So, I picked some up for you on my way home.”
- “I really had a good time with you last weekend. My favorite part was….”
Words help us repair damaged relationships.
- “I’m sorry. That was wrong of me. Will you forgive me?”
- “I can understand how you thought that. I really didn’t mean it that way. Sorry for the misunderstanding. Can I try to explain better?”
- “I forgive you. What you did hurt me, but I love you and forgive you.”
Words also encourage and teach persistence and resilience.
- “That was even better than last time. Your hard work is paying off.”
- “That didn’t work out the way we had planned. But we learned a lot that we can use the next time.”
- “Oops. We all make mistakes. Let’s clean this one up and keep going.”
- “Sometimes we all need a little help to learn how to do something.”
Words can instill a sense of belonging and value. They repair damaged relationships and nurture relationships. Use them wisely for “wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction” (King Solomon—Proverbs 18:20, NLT).
The number of children and teens
diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression has increase from 5.4% in 2003 to 8.4%
in 2011-2012. The percentage of children who experience a clinical level of
anxiety has increased from 3.5% in 2007 to 4.1% in 2011-2012. Those may sound
like low percentages but take a moment to consider what they mean on a more practical
level. Almost one in 20 children suffer from anxiety. Just in your child’s
classroom, there is probably at least one child who suffers with anxiety. And,
two in 25 children suffer from anxiety, depression, or both. In your child’s
classroom there are children who suffer from either anxiety, depression, or
both. That’s the bad news. The good news: you can help your child overcome
anxiety. You can help them learn to manage their own anxiety with these
- Examine your
own life and response to your children’s anxiety. Do you accommodate their anxiety by “bending over
backwards” to comfort them when they voice anxiety? Do you help them avoid
those things that make them feel anxious? If so, you send an implicit message
of “I know you can’t do this on your own, so I have to help you. I have to
do it for you.” You undermine their confidence. You perpetuate and
strengthen their anxiety. Take a serious look at your response to your
children’s anxiety and root out any way in which your behaviors may support
your children’s anxiety. Then, decide to change those behaviors. You cannot
change another person, but you can change your behavior. Consider how you will
respond to your children’s anxiety in the future. You can use the tips below.
empathy. When you children say they are
scared or nervous or anxious about something, empathize. Let them know you
understand how scary it is. Give voice to their anxiety. Acknowledge it and how
it makes them feel. Label the anxiety and any other feelings that may accompany
it. But, don’t stop there.
and empower your children after you empathize.
Offer statements that support their ability and strength after you acknowledge
their anxiety. “I can see how this scares you, but I know you can handle
this.” Rather than give in to their anxiety and accommodate their fear by
making it easier, support their ability to manage it, survive, and even
accomplish. Giving your children this kind of support lets them know you
believe in them. Your children’s confidence will increase as their secure base (you)
voice confidence in their ability.
- Praise your
children after they finish whatever task had aroused the anxiety. You don’t have to go overboard. Simply acknowledge their
courage to do the task even in the face of their anxiety. Let them know you are
proud of their effort. Point out their strength.
Examine yourself. Empathize. Encourage. Praise. As you do these four things in response to those things that arouse your children’s fear and anxiety, they will grow more confident. They may still feel anxiety, but they will also act courageously in the face of their anxiety. They will manage their anxiety in creative ways and accomplish the very tasks that used to make them run in fear. They will learn and grow. (For more read Preventing Anxiety & Insecurity in Your Children and A Daily Activity to Decrease Anxiety.)
Are you more like a manager or consultant in your parenting? Think about it. A manager is responsible for controlling the activities, dealings, and education of another person. A consultant provides expert advice and guidance. Which describes your parenting style more accurately: manager or consultant? Do you feel responsible for controlling your children’s activities, dealings, and education? Do you believe busy children stay out of trouble and so arrange their schedules to allow them to remain actively involved in multiple adult-organized activities? Are you building their resume today for college and life? Do you oversee your children’s homework, nagging them to complete it? Do you monitor their grades on the school site, making sure they hand in their homework and do well on each test? Do you constantly remind and cajole them to do their chores or to assure they do the chore properly? You’re likely a manager.
A manager gets exhausted. They have constant pressure worrying about whether the one they manage (their child) will do the job right. They constantly double check, micromanage, oversee. It is exhausting. Constantly looking over their children’s shoulder becomes a “pain in the neck.” And, their children get irritated. They begin to slack off. They don’t get to make choices and feel micromanaged so they give up. They lose motivation. They don’t truly experience the consequences of their actions. Instead, they focus on their parents’ actions, blaming the consequences on their parent who “must not be doing enough.” The children even begin to feel helpless in many areas…except video games. In video games they engage a fantasy world in which they have total control over their own destiny. If they mess up, the consequence is swift and they continue the game having learned their lesson. Unfortunately, this sense of control and learning does not generalize into the real world of home, friends, and school where they remain unmotivated and non-committal.
On the other hand, do you allow free time? Do you encourage them to choose their activity when they complain of boredom? Do you allow them to make choices like which clothes to wear (within respectable boundaries), when to complete homework, what extracurricular activities they want to engage in? Do you trust them to complete their homework and do well in school while making yourself available for questions? Do you encourage your children to become involved in the household chores by giving them important tasks and then trusting them to complete those tasks? Do you find ways to give them choices around tasks and chores? Do you calmly discuss your children’s thoughts about various tasks and then let them make a choice? Do you let your children suffer the consequences of their bad choices, like the bad grade for incomplete homework or the loss of privilege for household chores left undone? You’re likely a consultant.
A consultant is often tired as well, but rarely exhausted. They worry less and receive greater cooperation from the person they manage (their children). Their children learn to make choices and manage their own sense of boredom. They learn to entertain themselves. They find activities of interest and become self-driven in pursuing those areas of interest. They learn the consequences of their choices. They learn from their mistakes. In the process, they learn to trust the consultant (you, their parent) and seek you out more often for advice. Your relationship grows. Your influence grows. Your children become more cooperative and self-motivated as they gain a sense of control over their own lives. They mature and become more independent through your consultation. They even develop a sense of direction and goals for their lives as they find interests that motivate them to learn.
Whether you parented more like a manager or consultant yesterday, you can choose your parenting style from this day forward. Which will you choose?
Have you ever wondered how to motivate your children? They could have better grades but they just don’t hand in their homework or study? They could accomplish so much more but they just seem to “lack motivation”? Researchers at the University of Michigan recently published a study that might just help. In a series of three studies, they explored how positive relationships impact motivation. They discovered that even a brief reminder of a “supportive other” increases motivation for personal growth, even in the face of challenges. The participants who reported actually having supportive relationships showed a greater willingness to accept challenges that promoted personal growth. They also reported feeling more self-confidence (Read For a better ‘I,’ there needs to be a supportive ‘we’ for more on the study). In terms of parenting, having a supportive relationship with your children will help increase our children’s motivation. I’m not suggesting that a supportive relationship will end all motivational woes. It will not result in your children suddenly becoming perfectly motivated to complete every chore and homework assignment given. However, a positive supportive, relationship with your children will increase their motivation. A positive, supportive relationship with your children will increase the chances of them doing the chores more readily and even completing their homework. The question is: How do we develop and communicate a positive, supportive relationship with our children? I’m glad you (well…I) asked.
- Remain available. Our children know we are available when we engage them regularly. We communicate our availability by remaining open to interactions with them, putting aside our own agenda and responding to their direct, indirect, or even awkward attempts to engage us. Let your actions express your belief that being available to your children is more important than the game, your book, the paperwork, or whatever other distraction might pull you away from your children in the moment.
- Accept your children. Our children feel supported when they know we accept them whether they succeed or fail, experience joys or fears. They know we accept them when we acknowledge rather than criticize their efforts. They know we accept them when we acknowledge and allow for differences in taste and preferences. And, knowing they find acceptance in us they feel supported by us.
- Listen. Our children feel supported when they feel heard. This requires us to listen beyond mere words. We must listen with our ears to hear the words, our mind to understand their intent, and our hearts to understand their emotions. Then, our actions need to communicate our willingness to let their ideas and beliefs influence us. When we listen in this manner, our children know they have found acceptance and a supportive parent.
- Encourage. We communicate support through sincere encouragement. Sincere encouragement does not offer false praise. Our children abhor false praise. Nor does sincere encouragement manipulate. It is not offered to push our children in a particular direction or toward some action. Instead, we encourage our children by recognizing their inner dream and promoting it. We encourage them by acknowledging their effort and resulting progress.
- Offer honest, gentle correction. Children recognize honest, gentle correction as supportive. They benefit from a supportive parent who lovingly “nudges” them to grow, mature, and become a person of honor. Honest, gentle correction avoids screaming, name-calling, and belittling comments. Instead, it offers clear limits, consistent consequences, and loving correction. Gentle correction teaches from a foundation of love, communicating a value in our children.
These five actions can help our children feel supported. This will translate into a healthier sense of self-confidence and greater motivation to engage in behaviors that promote their own positive growth.
I live in Pittsburgh, PA. So, any time I see or hear about a study conducted by one of the universities in the area it catches my eye, especially when it deals with family. Recently, a study by Carnegie Mellon University caught my eye. This study focused on the impact of spousal support and opportunities. The researchers recruited 163 couples and gave one member of each couple a choice. They could either solve a simple puzzle or compete for a prize by giving a speech. Each person then returned to their partner and discussed whether to do the puzzle or compete for a prize. Participants with encouraging partners were more likely to decide to give a speech and compete for the prize. Those with discouraging partners, or partners expressing a lack of confidence, were more likely to choose the simple puzzle. Not real surprising, is it? But, here’s the part I found really interesting. Six months later the partners who had accepted the more challenging speech competition reported more personal growth, greater happiness, more psychological well-being, and better relationship satisfaction than those who chose the simple puzzle! The encouraging, supportive spouse helped their partner embrace an opportunity to “go for it” and grow. They supported their partners’ growth and in doing so supported their partners’ happiness. That, in turn, likely led to a more satisfying marriage as well!
Do you want to see your partner grow and learn? Do you want them to know greater joy? Do you want a more satisfying marital relationship? Encourage your spouse. Learn about your spouse’s dreams and encourage them to “seize the moment” when opportunities that arise to pursue those dreams. When challenges arise, express confidence in their ability to meet the challenge and support them in growing through the challenge. Express joy in seeing them move toward their dreams. Celebrate every step of the way. Then, thank Carnegie Mellon University, located in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, for revealing how encouraging our spouse makes life better! (Sorry for the commercial….I guess I’m a proud “yinzer.”)
One-hundred-twenty-three children played this video game, all 7-years-old. No, it’s not the start of a bad joke. It’s the start of an interesting study about learning. Anyway, the children played a fast-paced game in which each player helped a zoo-keeper capture escaped animals by pressing the space bar when an animal appeared UNLESS…(there is always an “unless,” an exception) a group of three “orangutan friends” appeared. These “orangutan friends” were helping capture the other animals. They were “allies,” so the player had to refrain from capturing them. Although the children had fun playing the video game, the real purpose of the game was to test accuracy and impulse control (not pushing the space bar when the three “orangutan friends” appeared). One more thing you need to know—the whole time the 7-year-olds played, researchers monitored their brain activity. In particular, they wanted to know what happened in the brain when a child makes a mistake.
They discovered that some children exhibited a significant increase in brain activity about half-a-second after making a mistake, indicating their awareness of the mistake and their attention to what went wrong. These children exhibited improvement in their performance after making a mistake.
Another group of children did not exhibit this significant change in brain activity when they made a mistake. They seemed to “gloss over” the mistake and mentally avoid acknowledging it. Their performance did not improve. They continued to play and make the same mistakes over again.
Of course, the implication of these results seems obvious: when we pay attention to our mistakes we learn from them and improve our future performance. So why do so many children not pay attention to mistakes? Perhaps they have never learned the importance of acknowledging and learning from mistakes. As a parent, you can help remedy this situation and increase your children’s ability to learn by loving mistakes!
- Love your own mistakes. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it. No need to get defensive or angry. Simply acknowledge the mistake. Attend to that mistake and figure out how you can avoid it in the future. In other words, learn from your mistake. Talk to your children about mistakes you have made, what you learned from those mistakes, and how you corrected it. Modeling this type of response to mistakes will create an environment in which your children are free to do the same.
- Love your children’s mistakes. When you children make a mistake, address it calmly and directly. Don’t belittle them for the mistake, but don’t gloss over it either. Don’t shy away from the mistake with a simply, “It’s OK, you’ll do better next time.” Address the mistake. “You made a mistake. Mistakes happen. Let’s figure out where you went wrong and how we can fix it.” The opportunity to figure the mistake out opens the door for improvement. So explore the mistake. Talk about the mistake and what might fix it. Then enjoy the solution.
When we love our mistakes children will learn to accept mistakes as a learning opportunity. They will delve into challenges with little fear of mistakes or failure because they know mistakes lead to growth. They will pay attention to their mistakes and improve the next time; and, as a result, they will enjoy greater confidence in the present and success in the future.
While studying for a Sunday School lesson recently, I ran across some very interesting words to describe the role of fathers. Paul used them to describe his own care for the Thessalonians. He said, “You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:10-11, NASB; italics added). That description struck me. In it, Paul gives several characteristics of a great father.
- A father lives the life he wants his children to live. He leads by example, behaving “devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly.” He lives “free of wrongdoing” and gives “no cause for censure or blame” regarding his own behavior. His strives to develop an upstanding and faultless reputation. That is a tall order. But fathers strive to teach their sons and daughters “to walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls them.” That lesson begins by example. Our children need to see us live a devout, upright, and blameless lifestyle before they can learn to walk in it themselves.
- A father exhorts. Some versions translate the word “exhort” as “encourage.” The Greek word literally means to “call to one’s side; to call near” so you can comfort, exhort, instruct, or encourage. To me, the interesting aspect of this word is the basic idea of “calling to one’s side.” A father does not parent from a distance. He parents up close. He invites his children into his life. He comes alongside his children and walks through life with them. He invites his children to walk beside him through life’s summer days and winter storms so they can observe his actions and words. He walks with his children through good times and bad, leading by example. This requires an intimate involvement in all aspects of his children’s lives as they encounter a full variety of life situations. In each situation, a father calmly walks by his children’s side, instructing through word and example how to best respond in an upright and blameless way.
- A father encourages. The Greek word used in this instance is used only three other times in the New Testament. In one instance Paul uses the word to instruct others to “encourage the fainthearted” (1 Thessalonians 5:14—NASB). The other two instances are found in the passage describing Lazarus’ funeral. The townspeople were “consoling” Mary and Martha for the loss of their brother. Fathers comfort their children. Fathers encourage children when they become discouraged. They strengthen their children when they feel weak. They build their children up, especially when the world beats them down. Fathers walk with their children through grief and hardship, toward a hopeful future.
- Finally, a father implores. The Greek word translated “implore” means to “affirm what one has seen, heard, or experienced.” In other words, a father teaches his children based on his life experience and knowledge. There is vulnerability in this. To teach from experience a father has to remain open. He exhibits a willingness to reveal embarrassing mistakes and failures, not just successes, so his children can learn. He accepts his own mistakes and even apologize when necessary, teaching his children to take personal responsibility for wrongdoings and make amends. A father is also willing to affirm what he sees in his children, both areas of strength and areas of need, in a gentle and loving manner.
Think about what this passage tells us about a father. A father lives the kind of life he wants his children to live. He takes the time to come alongside his children and he invites them into his life. He spends time with his children; and, within this intimate relationship, he can encourage and comfort, instruct and teach. That is a GREAT father!
I overheard two college students talking about their classes. I was eating a bagel but I couldn’t help overhearing. Their conversation went something like this:
“I can’t believe you got an ‘A’ on that test. I’m just not that good at math. But you’re smart.”
“Not really. I just sat with the study group and reviewed everything. That was a big help.”
Did you catch the difference in how these two students talked about success? Only the second student talked about studying and believed it helpful. “To study or not to study” flows from the student’s belief systems about self and growth. The first student seemed to believe her math knowledge is fixed. She’s “just not that good at math.” The second student believes study can lead to improvement. In fact, participating in a study group “was a big help.” Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University, would likely say the first student shows a fixed mindset. A person with a fixed mindset believes intelligence and ability are fixed or unchangeable. They spend time protecting their fixed ability by avoiding challenges and only engaging in activities in which they know they can succeed and, by succeeding, maintain their image. They tend to look at the end result for validation rather than the process and effort invested.
The second student displays more of what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset. People with a growth mindset believe intelligence and abilities can be developed. They embrace challenges and persist in the face of obstacles. They persist because they believe effort will help them grow. When they encounter failure, they consider it an opportunity to learn what they can do differently to obtain greater success in the future. For instance, they might try a different strategy, focus on a different detail, or develop a certain skill to help them experience future success. In other words, success comes through effort and intentionally improving strategies and skills.
As you can imagine, a growth mindset creates greater possibility for success. Fortunately, parents can help their children develop a growth mindset, one that focuses on the effort, strategies, and process that contribute to success. Parents teach children a growth mindset in the way they talk to their children. Consider the following examples.
|Statements Promoting a Fixed Mindset
|Statements Promoting a Growth Mindset
|“You’re really good at that.”
|“You put a lot of work into that.”
|“You did poorly on that test. I guess it’s not your subject.”
|“You did badly on that test—what did you learn from the ones you missed?”
|“You’re the only one who scored.”
|“What made you keep working so hard to score?”
|“Nice job on that piano piece.”
|“Wow. That took a lot of practice. How will you challenge yourself to keep practicing the next one?”
|“You are a good artist.”
|“I like the colors you chose. How have you worked to improve your talent?”
|“That’s just not in your skill set, is it?”
|“What strategies might help you improve?”
|“That was a terrible performance.”
|“What did you learn from that performance?”
|“We won. That was a great game.”
|“What did you and your team do to make this game go so well.”
|“I can’t get this.”
|“This is a challenge for you. What strategies have you tried? What new strategies could you try?”
|“That was a big fail.”
|“It’s OK to take a risk. What can you do different next time after what you learned today?
Changing statements and questions from those that promote a fixed mindset to those that promote a growth mindset will help your children develop a growth mindset…and that will increase their chances of experiencing success in life!
Children love to get attention from their parents. They will work to gain your attention by any means necessary. I’m sure you’ve noticed this truth on more than one occasion. For instance, the time your child quietly played until you received an important phone call and they suddenly “needed you.” Or, the time you tried talking to a friend but your child suddenly appeared and began to tap your shoulder and called your name. Your children do this because they crave your attention. They need to know you find them more important than a favorite TV show, book, phone call, game, or store clerk. This fact provides us with an amazing parenting tool…your attention. In fact, the attention you give your children will powerfully reinforce their behavior. Your children will do whatever behavior effectively gains your attention…and do it more often to gain your attention. So, give your child attention when they whine or tantrum and they will whine or tantrum more often. Give them your attention when they put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher and they will do that more often. Let me repeat these principles so we don’t miss them:
- Children crave their parents’ attention.
- Children will repeat any behavior that elicits attention from their parents. They will even increase that behavior to gain their parents’ attention.
Attention becomes a powerful tool in changing your children’s behavior. Any powerful tool must be used with caution. Attention is no exception…powerful when used with caution. So, use the tool of attention with these 3 hints in mind.
- Don’t just give your children attention willy-nilly. Give them attention for positive behavior. Catch the little rascals red-handed being good. Catch ’em red-handed in the midst of positive behaviors and give them attention for that positive behavior.
- Avoid giving your children attention for negative behavior. Nagging, scolding, and yelling provide your children with energetic attention that will increase the negative behavior you’re actually trying to stop by yelling! Instead, give negative behavior as little attention as possible. Ignore it if you can. If you must address the negative behavior, do so in as neutral a tone and non-energetic a manner as possible. Save the energetic interactions for positive behaviors.
- Be creative in how you give your children attention. For instance, you can:
- Give attention through physical affection like hugs, kisses, high-fives, pats on the back, etc.
- Give your children attention with simple 1-3 word acknowledgements like “thank you,” “that’s great,” “cool,” “this is fun,” “I appreciate that,” I enjoy our time together,” etc.
- Give attention with specific recognition of positive behaviors they have done. Do this with statements like “Thank you for (taking out the garbage);” “I really appreciate it when you (clean your room);” “I see you’re (washing the dishes);” “(You made your bed), thank you;” etc. You get the idea. Be creative and acknowledge what you see your children doing well.
Give this powerful tool a 2-4 week trial. Catch the little rascals red-handed being good. Acknowledge it with a simple statement or gesture. Try it out for 2-4 weeks. You’ll find your children’s positive behaviors increasing, their undesirable behaviors decreasing. No, they won’t be perfect, but you will see improvements. You’ll have more fun, positive interactions with your children. Life in your family will improve.