Tag Archive for expectations

Teach Your Child Self-Control

Parents want to raise children who have self-control. And why not? Science has shown that self-control offers many life changing benefits.

  • People with self-control make better choices. Better choices lead to fewer negative consequences and greater happiness. Better choices can also lead to more success—better grades, better jobs, more money, better health, etc.
  • People with higher levels of self-control “stick to” their morals. They exhibit greater honesty and live with greater integrity.
  • People with self-control resist temptation. They have better mental focus. In other words, unimportant distractions do not draw them away from important tasks…which takes us back to the first benefit noted above.

Kids on Victory PodiumAs parents, we want our children to experience the benefits of self-control. The real question becomes: how can we teach self-control to our children? Here are six ways to do just that!

  1. Play games. Depending on your child’s age, you can play any number of games to promote self-control. “Simon Says” and “freeze tag” teach self-control. Checkers, Chess, and Battleship teach children to think ahead and consider consequences, an important aspect of self-control. Board games of all kinds teach children to “wait their turn,” which takes enormous self-control. Don’t forget pretend play. Developing a make believe character who engages in an imaginative activity demands planning, consideration of consequences, acting out emotions, problem-solving, and cooperation…all aspects of self-control.
  2. Encourage self-talk. Self-talk offers guidance and encouragement through difficult tasks. Self-talk keeps children mindful of their desires and focused on their goals. Over time, self-talk becomes an inner voice prompting us to focus, move toward our goals, and ignore distraction. That inner voice promotes self-control.
  3. Teach healthy distraction. When children feel a growing anxiety or anger, healthy distraction can help. It can help them control their anxiety and allow them to respond wisely—from personal integrity, rather than with a rash emotional reaction. Teach your children healthy ways and healthy times to distract themselves. This involves giving them some specific physical or mental action to take. “Sing your favorite song to yourself” or “think about what you enjoyed most on our last vacation” will work better than “just think about something else.” “Build a space ship with your Legos” will help more than simply “go play.”
  4. Turn off the TV. TV watching will not teach the important skills involved in self-control. It does not encourage “waiting your turn,” thinking ahead, or focusing. Interactive social games and social interactions teach these skills. Turn off the TV and refer to #1.
  5. Maintain age appropriate expectations. Adjust your expectations to match your children’s age. Your 6-year-old will not have the same level of self-control as your 12-year-old…or your 16-year-old. Your 6-year-old will need more hands-on assistance, which will slowly change to more verbal prompting as she moves toward puberty and adolescence. Age appropriate expectations include age appropriate discipline. A toddler who won’t sit still in a restaurant requires different instruction than a 12-year-old who won’t sit still in the same situation.
  6. Do not assume a lapse of self-control is just bad behavior…listen. Allow your children to explain their choices and actions. Listen carefully to determine if they have an unmet need and teach them how to address that need. Listen for emotions that need soothed and help them learn to soothe them. Listen for motivations and intention that represent positive values and reinforce them while teaching appropriate ways to implement those motives and intention. Don’t assume a lapse in self-control is bad behavior…listen.

When you implement these 6 actions, you will encourage greater self-control in your children…from toddler to teen!

Parents, Are You a Slingshot or an Anchor?

Michael Byron, Smith, retired Air Force officer, wrote an excellent blog for the National Fatherhood Institute (click here to read it). In this blog, he wrote: “Families should be slingshots, throwing children into the world prepared for what lies ahead. Unfortunately, the problems of dysfunctional families are like anchors, dragging down their children’s potential….” So, I have to ask: Have you created a family environment that will serve as a slingshot for your children or an anchor? 

Anchor families:

  • Punishment concept.Place unrealistic expectations on their children.
  • Make demeaning, degrading, and discouraging remarks about their children or their children’s activities.
  • Imply greater acceptance of their children only after they have performed to a certain level (good grades, starting team, practiced their instrument, etc.).
  • Punish or demean children for times they experience failure.
  • Offer rude criticisms about their child’s character or performance.
  • Engage in name-calling.
  • Disregard their children’s feelings…or even punishing their children for “negative” feelings like anger, frustration, sorrow, or tearfulness.
  • Tell or imply they know more about what their children feel, think, or like than their children do themselves.


These behaviors act as anchors around your children’s neck. They weigh your children down, drowning them under the waves of guilt and shame.


Slingshot families, on the other hand:

  • grandfather and granddaughter with computer at homeLearn about the development of children, their children’s development in particular, so they can maintain realistic expectations.
  • Encourage their children.
  • Make sure their children know they are loved even when they fall short of perfection or have a particularly bad day.
  • Teach their children that failure is an opportunity to learn. They encourage determination and healthy persistence.
  • Offer their children constructive criticism in a loving manner.
  • Use “negative” feelings like anger, frustration, sorrow, or tearfulness as opportunities to grow more intimate with their children.
  • Remain curious about their children’s feelings, thoughts, and interests…using them as touch-points from which to deepen intimacy.


These behaviors serve as slingshots for your children. They help your children develop the skills necessary to navigate the world with courage, confidence, and poise.


So, I ask again. Which one are you—an anchor family or a slingshot family?

What Drives Your Family?

What drives your family? I am not asking who drives your family…nor am I asking if your family owns a Chevy, Ford, or Toyota. I am asking, “What motivates your family life?” What Fun Vaninfluences your family decisions? What is the heartbeat of your family? Many families allow fear or guilt to sit in the driver’s seat.  When fear or guilt sits in your family’s driver seat you are in for a wreck. For instance, families driven by fear of bad behavior believe that structures and rules will make everything “work out alright.” As a result, when the fear of bad behavior sits in the driver’s seat, the family finds themselves on the road of over-rigid, legalistic, and unrealistic expectations.  Fear-driven families remain overly vigilant to assure the loose morals of society do not creep into their family. If anyone’s behavior starts to do down the “wrong road,” the family simply adds another rule to detour the negative behavior; and rules of avoidance are put in place to keep family members away from the “immoral influences” of society.  Rules pile upon rules. The structure becomes the top priority in the family…until the family experiences the inevitable collision with rebellion resulting from an inability to meet the expectations. Yes, the wreck is inevitable. Family members never internalize healthy limits in the family driven by the fear of bad behavior. When they find themselves “out from under” the family rules, they rebel. Or, when they feel that “no matter what they do it is never enough,” they give up and rebel. As the saying goes, “Rules without Relationship leads to Rebellion.”


Other families are driven by the fear of looking bad. When children throw a tantrum in the store, the parents in this family begin to worry that everyone will think they are bad parents who have no control in their home. Their embarrassment overrides the need to stand firm; and, they give in to their children’s tantrum behavior. This family, driven by the fear of looking bad, is more concerned with appearance than character. Their children have to perform to a certain level to experience acceptance and feel appreciated. This family believes that only the star athlete, the straight “A” student, the lead actor, the first chair musician, or the first whatever has truly achieved their potential. Anything short of this visible success brings “encouragement” in the form of prodding, nagging, or comparisons. Appearance, however, is fleeting. Achieving top status is not fulfilling. Sooner or later we all fall short of perfection. And, we all want something that no amount of success can grant us…acceptance. When that moment hits the family driven by the fear of looking bad, the wheels go into a skid, the sparks fly, and the family crashes into the wall of disappointment, anger, resentment, and isolation.


Families may also find guilt in the driver’s seat. Families driven by guilt often want to make up for some past hurt…the divorced parent who gives their kids everything they want; the parent who feels guilty when inducing the pain of discipline so puts up with inappropriate lovebehavior; the spouse who hurt his partner unintentionally so now gives in to her every desire. Each of these families, and more, are driven by guilt. Families driven by guilt may “discourage” unwanted behavior with guilt-inducing discipline. When guilt drives a family, you can expect a wreck. Intimacy is replaced with anger and bitterness. Family members help one another while harboring resentment that “I have to do this.” Even activities normally thought of as enjoyable become a burden, stressing the family relationships.


Instead of letting fear or guilt drive your family, put love in the driver’s seat. With love driving your family, each person will find acceptance and intimacy. The whole family will experience honor and respect. Mutual acceptance, honor, and respect will open the door for reasonable rules and structure to be internalized. Positive behavior will be lived out more intentionally. With love in the driver’s seat, no one worries about being made to look bad. Instead, each person encourages and lifts the other person, striving to make other family members look good. A family driven by love still disciplines as well. In fact, they discipline more effectively because they discipline with truth and grace, love and limits. They do not easily give in or give up. They graciously discipline in love, teaching a better way to live sensibly in this world.


So, what drives your family? Fear? Guilt? Or love? Think hard and answer honestly. A wreck awaits your family unless love is in the driver’s seat!

6 Family Priorities to Consider

I remember when my wife was pregnant with our first child. I was excited…and a little bit nervous. I wanted to provide a great family environment and be a “perfect father.” Eighteen years later I know I fell short on the “perfect father” part. No one does this “parenting thing” perfectly. We all make our mistakes. However, that time of nervousness did make me think about the family priorities I wanted to instill in my children. Having values in mind helped cover my imperfections. Rather than dwell on my mistakes, I could pull back to our family values. Chaos ahead signOur family priorities became the foundation on which we could build a healthy family…the roadmap that kept us on the track toward a healthy family life. I realize now that without clearly defined priorities, each family member eventually drifts away and does their own thing…alone, without support or direction. Family values and priorities make up the glue that holds our family together when times get rough.  They are the life-giving “meat-n-potatoes” of our days together. Everything else is just icing on the cake.


Aye, that gives me an idea. Sometimes we focus on the icing. I mean, I love icing, but, if all I eat is icing I get a headache, my stomach hurts, my thoughts become fuzzy, and I get downright mean. I need “meat-n-potatoes” to live a healthy life. Our family needs the “meat-n-potatoes” of values as well. So, where do you focus your attention: on the “meat-n-potato” values and priorities that make for healthy family life? Or, on the sweet icing that leads to headaches, fuzzy thinking, and conflict? Take some time now to consider your family values, the meat-n-potatoes of your family life. To help you do so, consider these ideas. Which do you value more?

  1. Do you value successful performance and achievement or learning resilience and perseverance? Of course we want our children to succeed. More importantly, we want them to learn to persevere in the face of difficulties. We want them to “bounce back” from seeming failures. Learning resilience and perseverance encourages them to try new things and not fear being less than perfect. It encourages them to keep working for improvement. When we focus on performance, our children become afraid to try new things, afraid to fail…afraid to disappoint.
  2. Do you value structured routines or time with family? I believe in having structure based on routines and respect in the home. At the same time, those structures remain secondary to family relationships. If a structure begins to interfere with family relationships, we need to change it. In some cultures this means that bed times, although generally structured, are changed and modified for times of family gatherings.
  3. Do you value the independent person or the person who accepts help and helps others? Our culture tends to emphasize the self-made man, the independent person who has pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. However, do we really want our children to believe they are completely independent?  Don’t we want them to reach out to others and offer assistance when appropriate? Isn’t it beneficial to have the ability to reach out to others when in need? Surely we have to establish a balance in this area.
  4. Do you value getting great grades or becoming a well-rounded, socially adept, and hard-working person? When your child is 30, no one will remember whether they got a “C” or an “A” in Physics. What will really pay off when they are 30 is that they learned to work hard for the best grade they could earn. And social skills will most likely have a greater influence on their long-time work success than their high school GPA. So, we may want our children to develop a well-rounded education that included academics, social activities, and a variety of interests.
  5. Do you value getting the athletic scholarship or learning self-discipline, humility,To live by and teamwork? We love to see our children score the winning touchdown, block the shot to save the game, or outmaneuver their opponent to move the ball down field. It is exciting. But we have to face the facts…only a very small percentage of excellent high school athletes actually earn a living playing their sport. On the other hand, athletic practice and competition is an excellent arena to learn self-discipline, teamwork, how to bounce back after a failure, and how to lose (and win) with grace and humility.  Which will you emphasize?
  6. Do you value your reputation or your child’s character? It is easy to get caught up in our children’s behavior…to believe their successes and failures are a reflection on us. We push them to achieve on the sport’s field or earn high academic honors or get the star role in the musical or band…all for the parental bragging rights. Sure we are going to be proud of our children’s achievements…but won’t we be even more proud to witness our children’s character of humility, integrity, and selflessness toward others!


There are many other areas of priority to consider, but these six represent an excellent starting point. Take some time to think about these priorities. What do you want for your family? How will you model these priorities for your family? What practical steps will you take to assure that you and your family live these values over time? It takes some thought…and then some effort…but the long term returns are a celebrating family filled with honor and grace!

Planting the Seeds of Confidence in Children

We want our children to gain confidence as they mature. Confidence allows our children to explore the world around them and find areas of interest. Confidence gives them the ability to bounce back after a rough day or perceived failure. Confidence enhances their social interactions. It gives our children the strength to take advantage of new and exciting opportunities. Confidence helps our children become “all they can be.” So, how can we help boost a healthy confidence in our children?
First, we plant the seeds of confidence by:
     ·         Setting reasonable expectations for our children, expectations that match their developmental ability. Maintaining developmentally appropriate expectations assures that our children have the ability to behave in a way that matches our expectation. If we set an expectation that they, due to age or ability, cannot “measure up to,” we have planted a seed of self-doubt and shame rather than confidence. So, plant seeds of confidence by setting reasonable expectations.

·         Allowing our children opportunities to problem-solve. Opportunities to problem-solve can range from deciding which game to play with a friend to discussing how to manage a difficult teacher in school; or which movie to watch with a sibling to figuring out how to pay for car insurance. Discuss and explore options with your children. Offer guidance and suggestions. Ultimately, whenever possible, let them make the choice and experience the consequences of that choice. When you do, confidence is planted.

·         Catching them being good. Look for polite interactions, kind gestures, loving and/or considerate actions, or any other positive behavior in which you see your child engage. Each time you see these positive behaviors, you see a seed of confidence that you can then fertilize. 
Second, fertilize the seeds of confidence by:
     ·         Recognizing those positive behaviors. Simply acknowledge that you saw their positive behavior communicates that you value them enough to pay attention. Learning that you value them enough to listen intently and observe the good in their life’s actions builds their confidence.

·         While you are at it, acknowledge their strengths and assets. Help them learn how to use those strengths and assets to overcome difficulties. Teach them that their strengths and personal resources allow them to bounce back after difficulties and find success in spite of any setbacks.

·         Offer genuine praise. Make your praise specific. Let them know that even amidst imperfect effort or failed attempts you can identify and acknowledge something they did well. Perhaps you can praise their effort, the difficulty of the choice they made, or some other specific aspect of their action. Whatever you specific thing you praise will fertilize those seeds of confidence.
Third, kill the little pests that contaminate the seeds of confidence and ravage the fruit of confidence. Pests that need to be killed include:
     ·         Lecturing. Lecturing is as sly as a fox. We may think that lecturing gets our point across but it does not; our children just quit listening. As a result, lecturing robs our children of the opportunity to make decisions and learn from their decisions. It builds a wall between us and them. It crushes the seed of confidence by subtly communicating that we have little confidence in their ability to learn from mistakes. So, stop lecturing to nurture the seed of confidence.

·         Focusing on what they do wrong rather than noticing what they do right. Giving all our attention to what they do wrong creates self-doubt. When they put all the silverware, plates, glasses, and napkins on the table for dinner, we can acknowledge what they did well or focus on the missing serving spoon. When they bring home a report card with 6 A’s and a B, we can acknowledge the A’s or “harp on” the B. Don’t get me wrong. We still promote improving behavior and correct misbehavior, even address that single B. However, if we only focus on what is wrong or incomplete, we send the message that they are never “good enough;” that no matter how hard they try, they can never please us. That will kill confidence.

·         Attributing problems to character flaws. Saying a messy room is a result of your child being a “slob.” Or, not doing their homework reflects a “lazy child.” Such name-calling and contempt will ravage confidence.
To promote confidence in your child, plant the seeds of confidence, fertilize those seeds of confidence, and kill the little pests that ravage confidence. Happy confidence gardening.

How to Increase Your Child’s Anxiety

Today I had the opportunity to speak with several teens and college age adults. Each one expressed nervous anxiety about life. Many factors contribute to anxiety in people this age. After all, they are navigating a major life transition. Everything in their life is changing. Teens and young adults search to discover their place in an adult world. Decisions are becoming more life altering and consequences more serious. Knowledge previously practiced on paper now has to be applied in practical, real-life circumstances. New friends come into their life and old friends often drift away. These teens and college age adults desire greater independence but still find themselves depending on parents. All of this can create a great deal of nervous anxiety.
Parents can help reduce nervousness in their teen or young adult…or they can add anxiety to their child’s already growing case of nerves. In case you would like to increase your child’s anxiety as they navigate their transition into adult, here are five ways to help.
     ·         Always expect more than your child has achieved. If they get an 89% on a test, tell them they should have worked harder to get a 91%. When they do some chore around the house, complain about the part left undone. Never let them think they have done “good enough.” After all, you need them to pursue being the best. It’s a tough world out there.

·         Do not offer them any encouragement, thanks, or praise. They do not need to receive thanks for doing what is expected of them. They will not receive praise and encouragement when they get out in the real world; so toughen them up now. Instead of offering thanks or encouragement, simply point out the next task that needs finished.

·         Oh, along the same lines…never say “I love you;” they may get the wrong idea and think that they have already done enough to “earn your love.”

·         Do not trust them to make decisions on their own. Make all their decisions for them. You determine when they will go to bed and when they will get up. You control your house…and that means you control them. Do not give them responsibility; you manage it all. Some might say you are over-controlling, but you have to maintain total control if you want your child to grow up “a bundle of nerves.”

·         Keep a close eye on your child at all times. I do not mean to simply watch them—I mean overprotect them. Make sure they never experience any discomfort and never have to struggle. If you see them struggle, step right in there and take care of whatever they might struggle with. Whatever they get involved in, you become involved as well. Be actively involved in leading every activity in which they participate–from scouting to youth group to going out with friends. Never leave your children alone…they need your protection.
There you have it—five simple ways to create nervous anxiety in your children. If, on the other hand, you would rather your children learn to manage stress and become less anxious as they navigate the journey into adulthood, try these ideas:
     ·         Have fun with your child. Take time to play, laugh, and enjoy activities together.

·         Allow your child to perform less than perfect; in fact, let them fail at times. Do not rescue them from failing. We all learn great lessons through failures. An important lesson to learn is that we survive in spite of failure; and even more important, we grow through failure. So sit back and enjoy some minor failures. (
Click here to see a celebration of “failure.”)

·         Offer words of encouragement and thanks whenever possible. This will not weaken your children but strengthen them. Words of encouragement and gratitude let children know they are appreciated and admired. And, by the way, lay on the words of love and affirmation while you’re at it. When a person knows they are loved, they have less need to be anxious.

·         Teach your children problem-solving skills. As they learn these skills, let them make age appropriate decisions on their own. Begin to let your late teen make decisions regarding how late they stay up. Talk to them about the wisdom of their decision rather than forcing them to go to bed when you determine. This means giving your child an increasing amount of responsibility as they grow…and, allowing them to suffer the consequences of those decisions. Let them learn from the little decisions and mistakes as they grow so they will be better prepared to handle the big decisions of life.

·         Allow your children to experiment and explore. Feed their curiosity. Encourage them to explore. Yes, this can be a bit scary for a parent; but children learn to manage unexpected difficulties and unforeseen problems as they experiment and explore. They gain a sense of pride and personal power as they manage those difficulties. Let your children explore the world in age appropriate ways.

Four Steps to Make Your Family Miserable

Usually I write about ways to create a happy family filled with times of celebration and intimacy. However, some readers may prefer a more miserable home environment, a family that “prepares children for the real world,” a harsh world. Although I believe the best way to prepare a child for the “harsh realities of the world” is to provide a home filled with loving relationships, joyful celebrations, and gracious interactions, I don’t want to be accused of prejudice or being “too soft.” So, let me just offer some advice (perhaps, tongue in cheek) on how to make your family a truly miserable place–the kind of place children can’t wait to leave when they turn 18…the kind of place that causes spouses to fantasize of creative ways to escape.
First, to create a truly miserable home environment, make yourself number one. You know, watch out for “numero uno,” the “Big Kahuna.” Focus on your personal needs and desires while disregarding everyone else. Think about the things you want to do and ignore everyone else’s interests. Refuse to watch anything but the things you want to watch on TV. Roll your eyes when someone asks you to do something for them. Protect your seat, your time, your “whatever”…at any cost. As you practice this self-centered focus, you will discover that the second ingredient for making your family miserable occurs rather naturally. So…
Don’t waste any time; add the second ingredient for a miserable family, impatience. That’s right, practice impatience. Become impatient when family members don’t do just what you want. Start to yell impatiently when another family member sits on “your chair” or eats “your cookie.” A strong impatient attitude will serve as a springboard for harsh language and criticism. Don’t worry, let the harsh language flow from your impatience. Let it escalate all the way to name-calling and character assassination. You can use simple names like “stupid,” “lazy,” or “no good.” You can combine name-calling with criticism by saying things like “You’re just like your father” or “Why can’t you be more like ‘so and so.'” As you practice this you will find it comes more and more natural. You will even begin to lose sight of any good qualities that exist in your family members. When that happens, you will have moved your family to a new level of misery.  
Third, rather than show respect to other family members, criticize every little thing they do. This can grow out of impatience; but can also occur in response to unrealistically high expectations. With unrealistically high expectations, you can always criticize your family for “not doing it good enough” or “not doing it right.” If they make the bed, you can criticize them for the wrinkles in the sheets or the haphazardly placed pillow. When they help clean the kitchen, you can criticize them for leaving the wet dishtowel on the table. Whatever they do, always assume they didn’t do a “good enough job” and probably didn’t even try to do it right. Inevitably, they will do part of the job right. Ignore that part; disregard it. Whatever you do, do not recognize what they did right. Focus on what they did improperly, left undone, or forgot to do. Never offer thanks. Never show gratitude. If, in a moment of weakness, you thank them for doing part of the job right, you will set yourself back two steps in your movement toward misery.

Finally, do everything you can to make family members feel as though you could leave at any moment. Never let anyone grow secure in their relationship with you. This will include making veiled and open threats about leaving. “If you keep this up, I’m going to leave” or “I’m out of here” represent two direct threats of abandonment. A more veiled threat might be “I wish I wasn’t here” or “I should have never married you.” Of course, you could combine the threat of abandonment with criticism by making comments like “You’ve ruined my life. I may as well just disappear.” Whatever you do, never let them think you are happy with your current life with them. Instead, let them know how miserable you are “in this house.” (Of course, a miserable home was the goal and you may find yourself rather happy to achieve that goal…but, don’t let on.)
There you go…four steps for creating a truly miserable family environment. If you like misery, have fun with these steps. (Oh wait, if you have fun you would not be miserable. Well, you know what I mean.) If you’d rather enjoy a secure family environment filled with joyful celebration and intimate relationships, do the opposite of the four steps described above…practice self-denial, encourage one another, respect one another, express gratitude, and share your love.
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