I don’t know about you, but I am always on the lookout for my family’s physical and mental health. Unfortunately, they do not want to hear me talking about it all the time—they refer to it as “lecturing.” You know what they do like though? They love videos of cute animals. You may think those cat videos and cutesy animal videos get old, but my wife and daughters love them. Personally, I like the funny animal videos. At any rate, their love of cute animal videos opens a door for family health. In fact, according to research, I can now help my family stay healthy by giving them just what they love—videos of cute animal.
A study completed by researchers at the University of Leeds had participants watch a 30-minute slide that included images and short videos of animals. Fifteen of the nineteen participants were scheduled to take an exam 90 minutes after watching the video. The remaining four participants were “administrative staff who declared they were feeling stressed at work.” Prior to watching the video, the participants heart rate and blood pressure were mildly elevated. After watching the images of cute animals, their heart rates dropped to normal and their blood pressure moved into the ideal range (from an average of 136/88 to 115/71).
The participants also answered 20 questions to assess their stress levels. According to their responses, anxiety levels dropped for all the participants, sometimes as much as 50%…just by watching cute animal videos.
Finally, participants themselves reported the 30-minutes spent watching the video was “relaxing,” “enjoyable,” or “distracting” from upcoming stressors.
There you have it. No need to lecture your family about health. Just send them a few videos of cute animals. They’ll love you for it and it will help reduce their stress as well as improve their heart rate and blood pressure. That’s all good, don’t you think? I’m going to give it a try.
Family rituals provide you and your children with a sense of security, identity, and belonging. They build stronger family relationships through the creation of shared memories and the commitment of time spent together. (See Cheat Codes for Dads: Shared Rituals) With those benefits in mind, here are 6 rituals every family will enjoy.
Family Meals are a tremendous ritual of connection and security. Really, everything I needed to know I learned at dinner. Although Family meals are a great ritual to practice daily, you can shoot for 3 to 5 family meals a week if your schedule doesn’t allow for a daily family meal. Involve the whole family in the meal process. Whether they help with food preparation, setting the table, or cleaning up, everyone can help in some way. Use the whole mealtime to talk, share about your day, get to know one another more deeply, and laugh. Use the time to grow closer to one another.
Days of Honor also represent a great opportunity to create rituals to celebrate family. Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Children’s Day, birthdays, anniversaries…make each one special with activities, favorite foods, and even a few gifts to honor the special people in your family.
A Biannual Mommy/Daddy Night. Twice a year let each child spend the evening and night with either “Mommy” or “Daddy.” Take turns so each child gets a special night with each parent. Plan a special meal, watch a movie, enjoy an activity of your child’s choosing. Whatever you and your child choose to do, enjoy this special time of parent-child bonding.
Celebrating an International Day can also create a wonderful family ritual. Pick three or four countries you want to learn about over the next year. Take time to learn a little bit about each country. Then celebrate an International Day in honor of that country. Eat foods from that country. Listen to music from that country. Talk about the country. Even play games common to that country.
Heritage Day. In a similar fashion, learn about the country from which your family has descended. Learn about the heritage of that country. Then celebrate the country and traditions of your “origins” on a special Heritage Day.
A Walk in the Woods. Make it a weekly or monthly ritual to take a family walk in the woods or through nearby park. Not only will you grow closer as a family, but you will also reap the physical and emotional benefits of nature as well.
Of course, there are many more rituals you could enjoy. I encourage every family to celebrate holiday rituals, a bedtime ritual, a morning ritual, a parting ritual, a “reunite-at-the-end-of-the-day-ritual”…. The possibilities are endless. But each one presents the opportunity for a healthier, happier family.
What are your favorite family rituals? Which new ones might you like to try?
Families and happiness seem to go hand in hand. At least it appears so in Facebook posts and television commercials. But we all know families experience hardships and struggles as well. In fact, our family members might struggle with depression and that depression may deepen in times of stress like we are experiencing today.
If you, or someone in your family, struggles with depression, you know how it impacts the whole family. If so, I have good news. Two studies, one from 2017 and one from 2020, suggest a fun and effective way to help reduce the symptoms of depression. Exercise…aerobic exercise to be more specific. In both studies, engaging in an 8-week moderate to intense aerobic exercise program reduced depressive symptoms. The most recent study (2020) found that those who had a more severe baseline of depressive symptoms were the most likely to respond positively to an aerobic exercise regime. So, if you or someone in your family struggles with depression, start exercising today. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Pick an aerobic exercise you will most likely enjoy. You could walk, jog, bike ride, swim, row, or many more. You can engage in these activities indoors in a gym, on a treadmill, an elliptical, or a stationary bike. Or you can enjoy these activities outdoors, allowing allow you to enjoy the benefits of nature as well.
Buddy up. If you struggle with depression, ask a family member or friend to join you. Join a class or group designed for that activity. If your family member struggles with depression, join them in their exercise routine. You can motivate one another while sharing company and time together. You will not only reap the benefits of exercise but the benefit of companionship and a growing relationship.
Make it a habit to encourage. Express gratitude for the time you share while exercising. Acknowledge improvements. Recognize the beauty around you, especially if you choose an outdoor aerobic exercise. As you do, you will also realize the positive impact of gratitude and awe on your mood and the mood of your exercise partner.
These studies measured improved results after only 8 weeks, but you might just find yourself enjoying this so much you make a lifetime habit out of it. I know I did. So, if you or a family member are feeling depressed start exercising today.
I have friends who love football, soccer, baseball, basketball…really any sport. They watch all the games. They know the players’ names, backgrounds, and achievements. They can recite various players’ position, height, and weight. They can rattle off statistics about a favored player’s style of play and perhaps even tell you the names of the player’s wife and children. They have an amazing grasp on the knowledge of the sport and the players they love.
Some of these men, though, have trouble telling me the name of even one of their children’s friends, even though they live with their child. They have difficulty recalling their anniversary date or their spouse’s birthday, even though they see their spouse every day. They have no mental model of their family members’ lives or world. In the words of John Gottman, they lack a love mapof their partner and children.
This raises questions in my mind…questions about priority and honor. We make time to learn about those things we love. We spend time being with and learning about the things we value. We talk about the things we love. We develop a complete and exhaustive “love map” of those things we enjoy and love. So, let me pose a couple of questions to consider:
Based on your knowledge base, what receives a higher priority: the sport you love or your spouse and children? Which do you know the most about?
Do you know more stats about your favorite athlete or your spouse? Your children?
Are you more familiar with the world of sports or the world of your spouse (life story, friends, hobbies, dreams, favorite clothing style, struggles)?
Are you more familiar with the world of sports or the world of your children (favorite school subjects, friends, frenemies, dreams, struggles, hobbies)?
Do you invest more time and effort to learn about your favorite sport or your spouse? Your favorite athlete or your children?
The point is, we need to become intimately familiar with the world our family members navigate on a daily basis. We need to develop a “love map” of our spouse and our children. It will show that you “buy in” to your marriage and your family. It will reveal how much you value your spouse and your children. It will strengthen your marital relationship by giving you a deeper understanding and appreciation of your spouse. It will nurture a healthier relationship with your children as well (which will also make discipline easier). So, get to know the family stats—the dreams, the life story, the thoughts, the fears, the joys, the list goes on…. You will have fun learning the information and you will nurture a stronger family at the same time.
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.
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.
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.
Apluralistic 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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?