Tag Archive for family relationships

Your Family & the Tough Conversation

Families face tough conversations in today’s world. Whether focused on politics, your teen’s level of freedom, sexuality, or which swimsuit your children can wear, these conversations can quickly become emotionally tumultuous. Hurtful words may “slip out” and relationships can be damaged. Knowing your family’s conversational style provide a first step in making these conversations more productive.

Research on conversation styles in families has identified four categories of conversation styles in families. The styles fall along two dimensions: conversational orientation and conformity. Conversational orientation represents how much and how spontaneously families talk about multiple topics. Conformity refers to how much family members feel expected to conform to the views of one or two family members. With that in mind, let’s briefly explore each style.

  1. A laissez-faire conversation style is low in both conversational orientation and conformity. They place little value on conformity and communication. They tend to have limited conversation and share few topics. Family members can differ in opinions and each person is encouraged to make their own decisions with little input from family. As you can imagine, families using this style of conversation often lack intimate, emotional  connection. They tend to be disengaged from one another. Because of the lack of support given in decision-making, children often grow to question their ability to make decisions.
  2. A protective conversation style is high in conformity but low in conversational orientation.  Communication emphasizes obedience to parental authority and conformity. Parents see little reason for explaining the reason behind decisions and simply expect the family to conform. As a result, differences of opinion are not generally discussed. Unfortunately, positive conflict resolution and communication skills are not practiced either. So, when disagreements do naturally occur, the only way to resolve them is to conform to the authority’s decision. Once again, you can see how this limits family intimacy as well as the healthy development of self-knowledge and communication skills.
  3. A pluralistic conversational style is high in conversational orientation and low in conformity. These families have open, unrestrained conversation on a wide range of topics. Parents accept children’s opinions and decisions providing they are well supported by reason and explanation.  Conflict is addressed using positive conflict-resolution strategies and generally resolved. Family conversation is valued as is independent and autonomous thinking. This style does promote competence in communication, confidence in decision-making, and conflict resolution. However, since it is low in conformity, the family tends to be permissive, which can result in more behavioral problems. Ironically, permissiveness also tends to contribute to lower self esteem in children.
  4. Finally, a consensual conversational style is high in conversational orientation and conformity. This creates a tension between the pressure to agree and so maintain the existing hierarchy on the one hand, and open communication and exploration of ideas on the other. These families strive to balance independence and conformity, expression and understanding. Parents encourage children to voice their opinions and ideas but invest energy and time in explaining their own values, beliefs, and decisions to their children. Discussions are acceptable and encouraged but volatile conflict is generally thought of negatively. As a result, the family does model and teach problem-solving and conflict resolution skills. They also develop more intimacy and connectedness.  

The question to ask yourself as you move toward having the tough conversations is: which type of conversational style describes your family? How will that conversational style impact your approach to the topic? How does your style influence your goal? Is your current style the one you want to continue using or would you like to approach this topic differently?  Do you utilize the same style in relationship to your children as you do in relationship to your spouse? Will this conversational style change as your child matures? How?

Knowledge of your family’s conversational style and the answer to these questions will begin to help you successfully engage in the tough conversations with your family.

Join the Christmas Rebellion This Year

The family celebration of Christmas has always been a bit rebellious. But, given the events of this year, celebrating Christmas with your family is even more rebellious than usual. Successfully engaging in this Christmas rebellion requires the proper handling of 3 Christmas weapons. Learning to use these Christmas weapons effectively begins in our families.

The first weapon of Christmas is peace. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus who came to bring “peace on earth.” Teaching our families to pursue peace is countercultural today. No, pursuing peace is rebellious in our world of confusion, agitation, & conflict.

  • Pursuing peace involves doing the work to resolve differences with one another in a loving, just manner. This ability starts in the family and is practiced among family members. You can better resolve differences and conflict with the Ten Commandments for Effective Conflict.
  • Pursuing peace involves seeking the good of each family member rather than simply looking out for your individual wants and desires.
  • Pursuing peace means apologizing for wrongs done to one another as well as keeping a short account of wrongs done by others. Once again, family offers us a training ground where we learn to do this well.  

The second weapon of Christmas is joy. The angels told the shepherds they were bringing them “good news of GREAT JOY….” Today, teaching our families to celebrate joy is a form of rebellion in a world that seeks to rob us of joy by filling us with fear and sadness.

  • Celebrating joy takes intentional effort to see those things around us that are worthy of praise, things that are honorable. Then, after recognizing those things, acknowledging them with celebration. What has your spouse, parent, or child done today for which you can praise them? I’m sure there are numerous things to note.
  • Celebrating joy involves sharing gratitude with one another for even the “little things.” We can begin sharing gratitude within our families, thanking one another for even the mundane things done for one another every day.
  • Celebrating joy overflows when we intentionally share acts of kindness with each family member and the community around us.

The final weapon of Christmas is unity. Today the norm seems to be hatred, self-promotion, and division. But Jesus came to bring unity between man and God as well as unity between man and one another in Him. So, in the Christmas rebellion we continue to seek unity.

  • Unity is found in seeking truth and living in that truth. Within the family, we speak the truth to one another in love. We discipline one another to live in truth and integrity.
  • Unity is undergirded with the radical acceptance of one another in spite of differences or disagreements. Learning to practice this type of acceptance begins with accepting our family members in this way.
  • Unity is promoted through serving one another, showing each family member the full extent of our love.

Christmas has always been a bit rebellious, but it is time to make the Christmas rebellion a revolution. Will your family join the cause of the Christmas rebellion this year?

This Will Make Your Children Smarter

This simple activity has been shown to help children and adults learn more and remember better. In fact, two recent studies (one in 2017 and one in 2020) have shown how this activity increases brain activity to increase learning and memory. What is this activity? Writing by hand.

Writing by hand is a slower process to learn and practice than using a keyboard. It uses more intricate movements and stimulates more sensory areas of the brain than using a keyboard—the nuanced sensation of the paper, the ever-shifting feel of the pen, the subtle movement of the hand and fingers as they form different letters and shapes, the scratch of the pen on the paper, the sensation of the pen or pencil rolling across the paper, the vision of seeing the letters and words form, etc.  These sensory experiences create more contact between different areas of the brain, helping to further integrate the brain and open it up for greater learning.

Receiving so many Christmas gifts and experiences offers a tremendous time to help our children (and ourselves) get smarter by writing thank you notes. Of course, writing thank you notes has many other benefits as well (see 7 Wonderful Benefits of Writing Thank You Notes). Because it has become a lost art, if you need help knowing what to write, check out Forgotten Family Arts: The Thank You Note.

By the way, you don’t need to limit thank you notes to Christmas either. Write them with your children after birthdays, graduations, or simple get-togethers. Enjoy writing them as a family for no apparent reason except to show appreciation and gratitude to someone for whom you are thankful. You’ll build stronger relationships, improve mood, and yes, even “get smarter.”

Relieving Christmas Stress

Ever feel overwhelmed and stressed during the Christmas season? I do. The constant rush and hurry leaves me overwhelmed. The shopping crowds and traffic increase my frustration and stress. Even though I love my family, I experience more relational strain as routines get disrupted and modified. But a recent study has identified a way to reduce my stress and anxiety…and I’m going to implement it this year. Maybe you will find it helpful too.

Researchers from the University of Connecticut and Masaryk University (Czech Republic) identified a simple way to reduce stress in studies they completed in a laboratory AND in real-life situations. What did they find that helped reduce stress even in the face of potential natural disaster? Rituals. That’s right. Rituals reduced stress and anxiety. Specifically, these studies found that religious rituals led to a “greater reduction in both psychological and physiological stress” than did simply “sitting and relaxing.”  Although this research utilized religious ritual, the authors generalized the results to rituals in general (this generalization may be a topic for further research by the way). 

How do rituals help reduce anxiety and stress? For one thing, they are repetitive and predictable. They provide structure, regularity, and predictability. This gives us a sense of control which helps to reduce stress. They also tie us into “something bigger than ourselves” which, in turn, brings a greater sense of peace and reduces anxiety. (For more on the benefits of tradition & ritual read Traditions…Let’s Celebrate.)

So, if you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and full of anxiety during this Christmas season, focus on the Christmas rituals that bring structure and predictability into the season. Here are some great Christmas rituals to get you started.

  • Decorate a Christmas tree together. Decorating the Christmas tree is one of the rituals I like best. (Don’t tell my family though cuz it’s the family night I secretly love.)
  • Enjoy family dinner. Of course, you can enjoy a special dinner on Christmas and Christmas Eve but why limit it to those two days. Enjoy a simple family meal together every day during the holiday season.
  • Set up a nativity scene. Talk about one character in the nativity scene every day— shepherds, angels, wise men, Mary, Joseph, the Baby Jesus. You might even enjoy finding a nativity scene from various ethnic backgrounds and have more than one in your home. (You can find some at Nativity Sets | Nativity Scenes from Around the World: Magellan Traders)
  • Hide the Christmas Pickle. Or, if you’re not into pickles, hide the Christmas Nail.
  • Move the Elf on the Shelf. Or, if you would rather, move the wise men from your nativity scene. Begin by putting the wise men in a spot far from the nativity scene and move them to a new place closer to the nativity every day. Let your family enjoy the daily search to see where they are on their journey.
  • Use an Advent Calendar. You can either buy one or make one as a family (Here are 16 Best DIY Advent Calendar Ideas of 2020 – How to Make an Advent Calendar (housebeautiful.com) ). Just have some fun with it as you learn
  • Watch Christmas shows with your family. Pick out the favorites you want to watch every year. You could watch them on TV or a live show. Or you might act them out as a family.
  • Attend a Christmas Eve Service at a local church.

What rituals do you enjoy over the Christmas holiday season?

In Our Families, Keep It Close Enough for Jazz

I enjoy jazz. I love listening to musicians as they share the stage and play together. In seemingly magical ways, they interact with one another through the music and share in the fun with everyone present. They seem connected, like they can read each other’s mind. They anticipate the next move, the next chord, the next phrase. They are in sync…perfectly attuned to one another.

These musicians teach our families an important lesson. They teach us how to “get in sync” with one another, attuned to the subtle nuances of each other’s communications. When we do “get in sync,” we will resolve discord more easily and find greater harmony more quickly. Plus, when mistakes or conflicts arise, we will back one another up and reestablish the harmony of the home more quickly. How can you get in sync with your family? Follow the example of jazz.

  • Develop mutual goals and priorities. Healthy families established priorities they can all support. Like the over-arching structure, theme, and direction of a piece of music, these priorities represent something bigger than any one person within the family. Long-term goals of vacations are a simple example of this. Other overarching themes are more complex, like becoming a family known for engaging in kindness or for being actively involved in their community. Having these overarching themes and structures will allow your family to get in sync by working together with “their ear to the overarching direction” of your family life.
  • Learn one another’s nonverbal cues. Yes, verbal communication is important. But nonverbal communication is essential for attunement. Paying close attention to nonverbal cues gives you a wealth of information that will help you resolve discordant issues among family members and more effectively work to create interesting harmonies. “Listening” to the nonverbal communications of facial expression, eye signals, and even body movements allows you to make small adjustments to your behavior that will decrease misunderstandings and increase effective interactions, strengthening the theme of a strong, healthy family in your home.
  • Balance one another’s strengths and weaknesses. We all have strengths and weaknesses. The most effective couples and families are more aware of one another’s strengths and weaknesses. They step up and support one another in their strengths. They humbly ask for help in areas of weakness. They learn when to step back and allow another to take the lead as well as the appropriate time to step up and utilize their strengths to enhance the beauty of the family interaction.
  • Practice a give and take. Listening to jazz groups you will notice different players taking the spotlight at different times When one player begins an improvisational solo, the other players play more quietly and support the solo. They follow he soloist’s lead. In families, there is a time and place for each family member to take the lead. The other family members can gather around them and support them in the “solo.” If anything goes awry, the rest of the family can quickly jump in to help them out, lift them up, and get them “back on track” while making it all sound so easy and good.

Four hints we can take from jazz as we strive to make our families “close enough for jazz.” Of course, we will never be perfect. But those imperfections allow us to grow, learn to better tune to one another, and maybe even make some new, interesting harmonies. After all, we don’t have to be perfect…just “good enough for jazz.”

Spread the Happy Contagion…of Kindness

Couldn’t the world use a little more kindness these days? I know I’m in favor of increasing the kindness around here—in my home and my community. And, I have a plan to do it, starting with my family. I’m going to show kindness to as many people as I can every day. I’m going to engage in simple things—things like holding the door open for someone, saying “thank you,” helping to carry groceries, offering  assistance whenever I can, smiling—you get the idea, simple acts of kindness.

You may be asking, “What good will one person showing kindness do?” First, it will do wonders in our families. Even more, as we practice kindness in our families, it will spread beyond our families to our communities because kindness is contagious. A recent review of 88 studies involving 25,354 participants over the last decade revealed that being nice to others is highly contagious.  Note those last two words…”highly contagious.” This review pointed out a couple of important facts about the contagion of kindness.

  • Helping others increases our happiness more than helping ourselves does. Interesting, isn’t it?  Start practicing kindness toward others. It’s for your own good.
  • Seeing other people benefit from kindness motivates us to share kindness more than receiving kindness ourselves. So, let your children see you being kind to their other parent. Let your spouse see you being kind to your children. Let your family see you being kind to those in the community. It will motivate them to engage in acts of kindness as well.
  • People don’t just imitate acts of kindness they see others perform. They modify, improvise, and adjust those acts of kindness. They create their own acts of kindness. Seeing kindness inspires them to engage in kindnesses beyond what they saw.

Yes. I am going to do it. I am going to increase my kindness within my family and my community. My spouse and children will witness this kindness and be inspired to engage in their own acts of kindness. I will witness their acts of kindness and be inspired to engage in even more kindness. The upward cycle will begin. Even our neighbors will witness our kindness and catch it. The contagion will grow and perhaps, in time, we will have a community of people engaging in kindness. Wouldn’t that be a change? A miracle? A relief! Will  you join me?

The Two Become One

Parents operate best as a couple rather than two individuals. In fact, researchers from Nanyan Technological University (Presence of spouse alters how parents’ brains react to children stimuli) found that husbands and wives who are in the same location show greater brain synchrony in response to their children crying or laughing. In other words, when their children cry or laugh the two parents become one as far as brain activity goes.

Interestingly, the synching of brain activity did not occur between random couples, only with the other parent of the children.

It did not occur in response to static noise either. Only in response to their children’s emotional expression.

And, it only happened when the parents were physically present with one another—in the same room at the same time.

What does all this mean? It makes me think of a couple of things.

  • When couples raise their children together, they become more united. Their brains synch, especially in their “attentional and cognitive control mechanisms.” In other words, they become more attentive together and they begin to “mesh” how they respond to their children. Similarity in the brain translates to greater similarity in parenting. This will help them parent more effectively and lovingly as a “united front.”
  • As parents’ brain sync up, they will also grow more intimate with one another, more united in their love. They will gain understanding of one another as they work together on the common goals of raising healthy children. Seeing their parents’ love grow will also strengthen a child’s sense of security. Greater security translates to greater confidence and less misbehavior.     
  • As parents respond to their children together, they will experience greater success and growing confidence in their parenting. Who doesn’t want to feel confident in their parenting?

There may be more benefits for this growing synchrony between parents’ brains as they parent. What benefits can you think of? I just found it interesting that when two people who have developed their own lives work together to raise a child, the two become one…literally.

The Anger is Real…Don’t Let It Ruin Your Family

Anger…. There is a lot to be angry about today. I don’t need to list it all for you. You know what arouses the anger of so many people today. Just watch the news and you will see angry people. Scroll through social media and you will find angry people. Have a conversation and you might experience angry people. You might even be angry yourself. I know I am. An article recently published in the American Journal of Health Promotion discusses how news media has become “increasingly negative and polarizing” between 1979 and 2010. (Just imagine how much greater the media polarization has become since 2010.) The article focuses on the impact this has had on public health and offers a solution that calls, in part, for a commitment from those reporting the news to report at least one positive story for every three negative stories and a commitment from viewers to support those news venues that do offer those positive stories. But that is not really what I want to address. My focus is family…and anger is toxic in the family.

The polarization and anger witnessed in our society has crept into many homes. Ironically, it isn’t even that people are angry with their family. They are just angry and that anger bleeds into their home. And, as I said earlier, anger is toxic for families. Anger traps families in their pain. It undermines fun by intruding with constant debate and clarification. It erects walls of guardedness that diminish intimacy as well as opportunities to develop intimacy. It blinds us to the things we admire about our family members as well as their perspectives and simple endearing qualities. We end up arguing and debating, agitated, when all we really want is intimacy and connection with our family members.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a place for anger and a beneficial way to express anger. But when it sneaks into the family, it becomes an undercurrent of toxic emotion, it is not beneficial. It is toxic. So, what can we do? Here are some tips to help us rise above the anger and build love and connection in our families.

  • Ask yourself a few key questions. Do you love your family? Is it more important that you “convince them” of your point of view or that you show them you love them? How do you want them to remember you? How do you want your family to think of you, as an agitated person or a loving person? A person of self-control or a person prone to angry outbursts? Do you want to be remembered as a person who remained calm and shared love or a person who got lost in emotion and snapped out at even the little things?
  • Ask other family members questions…AND listen. In these times we really want to understand one another. Take the time to ask question but take more time to listen. Ask them what it is like for them during these times? How are they managing the stress of the day? Ask what you can do to help them. If they want to discuss issues of the day, ask how you might discuss these issues without it becoming an argument and arousing anger. Let them know you love them no matter what.
  • Give no advice. Simply practice awareness. Too often we give unsolicited advice (I know I do). Giving unsolicited advice sends an implicit message that they aren’t good enough or smart enough to figure things out on their own. Instead of being helpful, our unsolicited advice become rocks thrown at a person’s head. They don’t build relationship. They promote defensiveness. They even hurt. So, rather than give unsolicited advice, practice awareness. Become aware of your family members’ emotions, intent, and perspective. Learn about their priorities and their fears. Become aware of how they express themselves, what irritates them, and what soothes them.
  • Play. Play relieves stress. Play pulls people together. Play builds intimacy. Play washes away the troubles of the day…at least for the moment. Play helps us gain perspective. Engage your family in play.
  • Create “issue free” and “positive news only” zones.  You and your family will benefit from creating times or spaces in which the “issues” of the day are not discussed. In these times you can talk about other things like things you have enjoyed during the day, future family activities, or positive news you have heard. You can talk about a story you are reading, a song you enjoy, or things for which you are grateful.  The possibilities are endless. Just enjoy a time of conversation that can bring joy and connection into your family.

Yes, anger is real. Anger can be legitimate. It can motivate us to create change in positive ways. However, anger can also take over the family. It can be toxic. It can destroy your family. Don’t let anger pull your family apart. Practice these tips and enjoy a loving family.

LEAP Before You LOOK

Did you read the title as it is written or as you usually hear it spoken? Read it again: LEAP Before You LOOK! Granted, it is generally better to look before you leap, to count the cost. But there is at least one time when it is better to LEAP before you LOOK, at least that’s the suggestion of a study conducted by University of California Santa Barbara. In this study, 1,500 participants completed two surveys. The first survey was a measure of the participants’ attitudes about socially desirable behaviors like kindness, forgiveness, and self-accountability. For this survey, the participants were divided into the three groups.  The first group had to answer true/false questions in under 11 seconds. The second group was instructed to wait 11 seconds before answering. The third group simply answered the questions at their own pace. Those who answered in under 11 seconds scored higher in social desirability. They described themselves as more kind and helpful. The longer a person “thought” before answering, however, the more selfish their answers became. Interesting…but why?

To gain a better understanding of why this might be true, the participants took a second survey assessing their core beliefs about humanity. This survey revealed that a person who believed people’s “true self” was generally good AND people who believed people’s true self was generally bad BOTH showed more social desirability under the 11 second time constraint. In other words, their core belief about people did not impact their tendency to be kind and helpful. Still, thinking about being kind and helpful did impact the participants’ actions. The more the participants thought about being kind, the less they responded with kindness and the more selfish their answers became.

In other words, our first impulse tends to lean toward kindness. The researchers suggest that “kindness is a deeper learned habit that comes from a lifetime of associating kind behaviors with beneficial outcomes.” Could be…or maybe we are wired for kindness. I don’t know. That’s an idea to explore and clarify in future studies. (Read Toddlers Prefer What Kind of People? & Geometry, Infants, & Compassion.) At any rate, our first instinct seems to be toward kindness. But we think. We contemplate how needy the recipient of our kindness “really is.” We worry about an audience. We wonder if we are the right person to help. We count the cost of helping and being kind…the financial cost, the time cost, the emotional cost, the reputational cost. Then, after all the thinking is done, the opportunity for kindness has passed. We have talked ourselves out of kindness. In other words, we looked and never leaped.

So, when it comes to kindness, LEAP before you LOOK. We can teach our children this principle of kindness by doing the following.

  • Share kindness with your family. Offer family members a compliment as often as you can. Make them some coffee or tea. Pour them a glass of pop. Do a chore. Sharing kindness requires action. Don’t just think about it. Do it. As you practice and model kindness within the family, your whole family will learn to extend kindness beyond the family unit as well.
  • Read stories of kindness. You might find these in children’s books (Here are 17 Kid’s Books that Teach Kindness from Woman’s World.) or you might find them in various news publications (like Good News Network). Discuss these stories of kindness and how your family might respond in similar situations.
  • When the opportunities arise to show kindness outside the home, LEAP before you LOOK. Don’t just talk about it. Don’t just think about it. Do it. Encourage your children to share kindness. Let them see you sharing kindness. It may be as simple as holding the door for a stranger or as honorable as returning money to a person who dropped it. Whatever the opportunity, show kindness.

As we practice these three steps in our homes, our children will come to know that when it comes to kindness, LEAP before you LOOK.

The Satisfaction of Small, Meaningful Doses All Day Long

Families need a healthy diet of love and connection to thrive. How do we meet our family’s dietary need for love? Some families have one big meal a day to satisfy their “love cravings.” They try to engage in some extravagant show of love once a day (at best) in hopes that it will last until the next big show of love. It doesn’t…it never will.

Other families fear there is not enough love and connection to go around. They fear it will run out so they cling and “act out” to monopolize whatever attention and “love” they can get. This doesn’t work either. It ends up pushing others away.

Others, fearing love resources are limited, dole out love in scanty portions, just enough to keep you hungry for more. Everyone ends up feeling just little disconnected, confused as to whether they are really loved or not.

A better way of maintaining a healthy diet of love and connection is by sharing small but meaningful doses of it throughout the day. A study out of Penn State published in 2020 (see The Undervalued Power of Experiencing Love in Everyday Life for a review) called these small, meaningful doses of love and connection “felt love.” Participants in this study were randomly sampled via cell phone to determine when and where they experienced “felt love,” when and where they felt a connection with another person. Two findings were of special interest to me.

  1. Experiencing small, meaningful doses of love throughout the day led to increased feelings of optimism and purpose. In other words, if you want your spouse, children, or parents to feel greater optimism and purpose, intentionally do and say things throughout the day that will make them feel loved. Give them physical affection. Compliment them. Appreciate something about them. Serve them. Sit and talk with them. Empathize with them. Connect. They will feel love and connection…and their feelings of optimism and purpose will increase.
  2. “Nudging study participants to be more mindful of ‘felt love,’ and encouraging people to recognize random moments of warm-heart connection actually increased their sense of being loved” (Oravecz). Simply raising a person’s awareness of “felt love” and opportunities to express “felt love” raised feelings of being loved and connected.

Based on these findings, we could do at least three things to increase the feelings of love in our families.

  • Encourage each family member to offer a daily diet of multiple, small, and meaningful doses of love to other family members throughout the day.
  • Spend time at dinner or bedtime sharing stories of when each one received love and connection during the day and how each one shared love and connection with another that day. Making this conversation a routine will “nudge” your family members to “be more mindful” of such moments.
  • Model the intentional sharing of small, meaningful doses of love and connection with others in your home and outside your home. Hold the door open for other people. Let the other driver merge. Share the remote. Pay for a stranger’s coffee. Be creative and share small, meaningful doses of love and connection with others, including your family.  

I don’t know about you, but I think our families and our world are hungry for this kind of diet. I know I am…so I’m going to share it with my family now.

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