Tag Archive for healthy development

Book Review: Hunt, Gather, Parent

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

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

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

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

Death by Marriage

Don’t get me wrong. I love marriage. I am an advocate for marriage. A happy, healthy marriage is a little taste of heaven. Studies even suggest that people sharing a happy, healthy marriage live longer, have fewer strokes, and survive major operations more often, and more ( 10 Science-Based Benefits of Marriage for Your Health – Healthy Hints). But those are the consequences of a healthy marriage. An unhealthy marriage, one in which partners are “dissatisfied,” can kill you, especially if you’re a male.

A study published in 2021 followed 8,945 men for 32 years while assessing their medical data, lifestyle choices, and marital satisfaction. After 32 years, 5,736 of the men had died. Men who were dissatisfied with their marriage were 19% more likely to die than those who reported being satisfied with their marriage. This increased risk of death was similar to the increased risk of death for smokers compared to non-smokers or for physically inactive people compared to active. More specifically, fatal strokes were 69% more common among those who reported an
unsuccessful (AKA—dissatisfying) marriage compared to those reporting having a very satisfying marriage. In other words, an unhealthy marriage is a health risk factor.

Rather than risk death by marriage, commit to improving your marriage and act on that commitment.

  • Read a good book on marriage with your spouse. More than simply reading it, put the ideas and principles discussed in the book into action. A great book to start might be John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (read a review here).
  • Find a good marital therapist. Many couples wait until they are at their whit’s end to find a marital therapist. By that time, they harbor resentment, and one person has often already decided to leave.  Find a marital therapist before it gets to that point.  Start working to improve your marriage when you find yourselves feeling just a little disconnected and don’t know how to fix it.
  • Attend a marriage education seminar or workshop every year. Take the ideas and principles you learn in the workshop and apply them for the rest of the year. Make them the habits of your successful marriage.

These ideas are ways for you to learn about one another and strengthen your marriage. Each one can teach you to turn toward one another and work as a team. They can help you rediscover and express what you admire in your spouse. And they can help you learn the importance of daily habits to keep your marriage strong. That may not fix everything immediately. You may still argue and have bad days. But you will find your marriage on an upward path of growing health, happiness, and life…rather than stumbling down the path of death by marriage.

Is Free Play REALLY Better for Kids?

What happens when children get to play together without interference from adults?  Amazing things happen…like problem solving, creativity, independence, and learning limits (Read Make Your Child “a Head Taller Than Himself”). I’m not just making this up either. A recent study published in the School Community Journal explored the impact of children’s participation in recess and The Let Grow Play Club.  Study participants included 460 Kindergarten through fifth graders attending an elementary school in Long Island, NY. One hundred of these students were chosen to participate in The Play Club for one hour every week while the rest participated in regular school recess (40-minutes long). Results were obtained through observation, student interviews, and teacher interviews. What were the results? Good question.

In student interviews, the students actually noted that the Play Club helped them “stay focused” during school, increased their energy level and mood, and gave them the opportunity to socialize and make more friends.

Teacher interviews suggested that students who engaged in the Play Club were better able to focus and concentrate during school. Teachers also noted an improvement in social skills like negotiation and problem-solving without adult intervention. They were better able to make adjustments to meet challenges that naturally arise during play. Overall, they exhibited greater creativity.

Observations supported the interviews, revealing the same results.

You may be thinking, “But I’m not a teacher. I’m a parent. What does this have to do with me and our home?”  Well, play can have the same positive benefits in the home setting that it has in the school setting. If you want to give it a try, encourage your kids to go outside and play with their friends. If they have trouble doing so, help them come up with ideas. If they still have trouble, you might try the Let Grow Independence Kit and involve the neighbors in developing your children’s free play in the community. In the Let Grow Independence Kit, children can choose activities to do in their home. They will learn new things and have fun. In fact, a random sampling of kids and parents who have used the Let Grow Independence Kit revealed a “flourishing of idiosyncratic interests the kids would never have had the opportunity to pursue otherwise.” In other words, you might just be surprised at how much your children learn through play and what they develop an interest in during play. But don’t take my word for it. Let the children play…and watch what happens.

Romance & Breast Cancer

What does romance have to do with breast cancer? According to research published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, there is a definite relationship. Researchers from Ohio State University found a “clear trend” between romance and breast cancer after reviewing the data obtained through questionnaires and three separate blood samples taken from 139 women diagnosed with breast cancer. A “clear trend”? Yes. The more satisfied a woman felt about her romantic relationship, the lower her perceived stress and the lower her inflammation.  Elevated levels of inflammation are associated with cancer recurrence and other illness such as arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes.  In fact, women’s inflammation markers were even lower at individual visits in which they reported satisfaction with their partner than during individual visits in which the same women reported less satisfaction. In other words, this research suggests a “clear trend” that a strong, healthy marriage reduces the chances of breast cancer recurrence and promotes positive overall health by reducing a woman’s perceived stress and inflammation markers in the blood.

Of course, this “clear trend” is not a cure-all. But it does provide us with important information. A healthy marriage can promote your spouse’s physical health. With that in mind, here are a dozen ways to build a healthy marriage, to keep your marriage strong and intimate.

  • Share time together. Intimacy and health within any relationship, especially marital relationships, are built upon time spent together.
  • Dream together. What do you want to do in five years? Ten years? What dreams do you want to fulfill with one another? For one another?
  • Share physical affection that includes non-sexual touch and sexual intimacy. (Is Your Marriage Like Chocolate Without Icing?)
  • Express gratitude. Even if you think your spouse simply did what they are supposed to do, thank them anyway. Gratitude builds relationship.
  • Expand your “love maps” of one another.  Learn about one another’s world of ideas, friends, and activities.
  • Express adoration and admiration for one another. Keep the adorable parts of your spouse in mind and make it a habit to compliment them often. (Here is an adoring Math Equation to Strengthen Your Marriage.)
  • Talk about problems as they arise and working to resolving them with your spouse’s best interest in mind. After all, to “shut up and put up” will destroy your marriage.
  • Apologize when necessary. Notice it says “when” not “if.” You will make mistakes. We all do. Be willing to eat a little humble pie and apologize for your mistakes and wrongdoings.
  • Forgive graciously. As Desmond Tutu’s book is famously titled, there is “no future without forgiveness.”
  • Honor your spouse by serving them. There is no greater way to show the full extent of your love than through the simple, daily, menial tasks of life.
  • Start a hobby you can both enjoy. This can help you enjoy time together.
  • Encourage your spouse’s dreams. Ask your spouse about their dream. Then do what you can to support that dream. Encourage them. Accompany them. Finance them. Dream with them.

Engaging in these activities will help you build a stronger, healthier marriage with your spouse. And that will promote your spouse’s health. That’s the power of love!

Early to Bed for Children Reduces…What?

My mother and my adult daughter were talking about childhood bedtimes recently. My daughter remembered having to go to bed during the long days of summer while the sun was still shining. Of course, I was the bad guy, the parent who made her go to bed in the daylight.

My mother found that amusing. It reminded her of how much I had complained as a child about going to bed during the long months of summer while the sun was still shining. Somehow, though, I was still the bad guy, the one who complained about going to bed early. In both cases I was the bad guy ( in good humor, of course).  But, no fear. I reminded them that research is on my side. (You can imagine the rolling of the eyes as I bring this gem into the conversation.)

Research published in Acta Paediatric found that an early bedtime reduced the risk of obesity in a study of 1,258 six-year-old Indigenous Australian children. To summarize, the lead author simply noted that “establishing consistent and early bedtimes may reduce the risk that your child will be overweight or obese.”

I guess I can thank my parents now for setting an early bedtime for me as a child. And, my daughter can thank her mother and me for doing the same. Perhaps they can both acknowledge that I am not such as bad guy after all. I am just a guy looking out for my children’s future health. After quoting the authors statement, my daughter and my mother both said, “Go to bed. Just go to bed.” And wouldn’t you know, the sun was still shining!

Sure, Children Lie…But Parents?

It’s true. Children lie. But parents? A collaborative effort of four universities from four different countries (Singapore, Canada, US, and China) conducted a study exploring the impact of parental lies…so they must have known parents lie. I had to ask myself…what kind of lies might parents tell their children? As soon as I asked, I began to recall some lies I have heard parents tell their children. “Tell them I’m not home.” “If you don’t behave, I’ll call the police.” “Tell them I’m sick and we’ll go to the park.” “I’m too tired to play” (while working on a home project). “You aren’t tired.”

Yes, parents lie sometimes. But, when parents lie, it seems to carry dire consequences. Which brings me back to the collaborative study exploring the impact of parental lies. The clinicians involved in the study found that lying led to short-term compliance but long-term problems. Sure, the little white lie got the children to behave in the moment, but it led to negative consequences as the children grew up.  Specifically, the more a person reported being lied to as a child, the more likely they lied to their parents as they got older. They also reported greater difficulty managing various psychological and social challenges. They exhibited more disruptive behavior, conduct problems, selfish behaviors, and manipulative behaviors. They reported feeling guilt and shame more often as well.

With so many behavioral, social, and emotional challenges arising in our children from parental lies, you might want to try an alternative.

  • Acknowledge your children’s feelings and your own feelings rather than dismissing them with a lie. (“You can’t be tired.” “You have no reason to be upset.” “I’m not angry!!”) Let your children know it is ok to have various feelings. Then teach them how to respond to those feelings in an appropriate manner.
  • Give your children information. Rather than lie, explain…truthfully. Our children can learn from the truth.
  • Offer choices. No need to lie and tell them the green shirt with the hole in it is dirty when in truth you simply do not want them to wear a shirt with  hole in it. Give them the information. Explain why you do not want them to wear it. Then offer them a choice of other clothes they can wear.

How else might you avoid telling your children lies?

My Teen: A Live-in Boarder?

Anna Freud once wrote that teenagers “live in the home in the attitude of a boarder, usually a very inconsiderate one so far as the older and younger family members are concerned” (1958). This quote describes how a teenager’s developmental work of separating from the family to become an independent person is perceived by others in the home. For many parents, this often feels like a teenager abruptly withdrew from the family and now spends all their time with friends. When they do come home, they immediately sequester voluntarily into their room. Suddenly, they seem embarrassed by a parent’s presence. They appear to desire time with friends more than family. They frown, sigh, and scowl in response to family attempts at interaction but light up with a smile as soon as a friend comes into sight. But who wants a scowling boarder in the home, especially one that doesn’t make any contribution to the household? How can a parent respond to this in a way that will promote their teenager’s growth?

  • First, understand that, as frustrating as it is, this is not unusual behavior. It is normal. Teenagers are preparing to leave the security of home and enter the world of adults. The teenage years of pushing family away allows them to practice leaving before they actually do. It allows them to pretend like they live alone with the safety net of family to catch them if (and when) they make a mistake. They can practice “adulting” from the comfort and safety of home. I like Lisa Damour’s analogy that the teen years of separating from family and practicing independence are like learning to ride a bike with training wheels (found in her book, Untangled). It’s preparation for the real thing. Give them the opportunity to practice adult decisions, adult debates, and adult lifestyles while in the security of your loving and watching eye. Let them have some independence.
  • Allow them some privacy. Let their bedroom become their sanctuary. You can still set limits around technology to help them internalize healthy limits of their own. But let them have their space. Respect that space. Knock before you enter. Don’t go in uninvited.
  • Provide opportunity for increased responsibility. Let them begin to practice some adult skills. Let them contribute to the household in a meaningful way. This may require that you explain how some task or chore you ask them to complete is meaningful. For instance, you might let them wash their own clothes, feed their dog, get a job outside the house, help cook meals, run to the store for you, or volunteer to help the younger children in church. Let them have some adult responsibility. These responsibilities will have to be adjusted as your teen’s schedule changes. But, let them have some responsibility.
  • Enjoy family meals.  I know it’s difficult to get the whole family together every day for a meal. But try to get as much of the family together for a meal on as many days as you can during the week. The research suggests that dinner with one parent has the same positive effect as having dinner with two parents. The important thing is not forcing everyone to come together but getting as much of the family together as often as you can for a family meal. Aim for 5 of 7 days a week. The benefits of eating family meals (What a 10-year-old Gains Eating With Family and the benefits of The Lost Art of Family Meals) will serve as a great motivator for you to encourage family meals. 
  • Take advantage of ideal times talk with your teen. Car time is one such time. When you drive your teen to various places, let them pick the music and spend the ride talking with them about the things they enjoy—their friends, their struggles, their relationships. Another great time to connect with your teen is bedtime. Before you go to bed (or before they go to bed, whichever comes first), spend 10-20 minutes touching bases. Share about your day and listen to them share about their days. Talk about your plans for the coming days and big plans for the coming months. Make this time of connection a simple routine and you’ll be pleased with how well you connect during this time. (Learn more tips to Connect with Your Teen.)

The teen years offer the teen a time to learn how to live on their own, to discover their place in the world, and to learn to trust in their ability to navigate the world independently. What better place to practice than in the safety and comfort of their parents’ loving gaze and care?

7 Things You Can Do to Raise a Healthy Adult

Life is filled with risk factors and protective factors.  Children, in particular, are susceptible to these risk factors and protective factors. In fact, you may have heard talk about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and how they impact our children even into adulthood. Specifically, ACEs include abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual), neglect (physical or emotional), and household dysfunction (mental illness, domestic violence, incarcerated relative, substance abuse, or abuse). The more ACEs a child experiences, the greater the risk that child will suffer from depression or poor mental health. In addition, the more ACEs a child experiences, the more likely they will struggle in developing social emotional supports as an adult. In other words, these childhood traumas impact an adult’s level of life satisfaction and functioning. That’s bad news.

BUT…there is good news. Children can experience protective factors as well. These Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) also have an impact on our adult lives. Recent research identified 7 Positive Childhood Experiences and their impact on adult life by surveying over 6,000 men and women over the age of 18. (Read another review here.) The seven PCEs included:

  1. Having the opportunity to talk with family members about their feelings.
  2. Feeling that their family stood by them during difficult times.
  3. Enjoying participation in community traditions and activities.
  4. Feeling a sense of belonging in high school.
  5. Feeling supported by friends.
  6. Having at least two non-parent adults who take a genuine interest in them.
  7. Feeling safe and protected by an adult in their home.

An adult who had experienced 6 or 7 of these as a child had a 72% lower chance of reporting depression or other mental health concerns than someone who experienced 0 to 2 of these PCEs.   If they experienced 3 to 5 PCEs, they had a 50% lower chance of depression or other mental health concerns. In addition, those experiencing 6 or 7 PCEs reported “always” 3.53 times more often when asked about receiving social and emotional support as an adult than those who received only 0 to 2 PCEs. The most amazing discovery: the positive impact of PCE’s remained true even after accounting for Adverse Childhood Experiences.  

What’s the takeaway? Children are more likely to have better mental health, less depression, and healthier relationships in adulthood if they experience these 7 positive childhood experiences. You can build these positive experiences right into the fabric of your family.

  1. Accept the expression of feelings.  Weep with your children when they weep. Rejoice when they rejoice. Share their anger and celebrate their joys.
  2. Difficult times will arise, anything from their first broken heart to the loss of a pet to the loss of a friend from death. Stand by them. Comfort them. Let them feel your presence.
  3. Participate in community traditions. This may include community fireworks, scouting, sports, or weekly worship. Get involved.
  4. Remain involved in your child’s education. Visit the school. Volunteer to help with whatever club they join. Talk to their teachers. Do what you can to help them feel a sense of belonging in their school.
  5. Encourage your children to invite friends to your house. Have snacks available. Allow your child to take a friend on an outing. Get to know the parents of your children’s friends. Ask about your children’s friends.
  6. Get to know the adults in your child’s life and encourage their relationship with those you trust. They may connect with a coach, a family friend, an aunt or uncle, a minister. Encourage these positive connections. After all, it takes a village to raise a child.
  7. Help your child feel safe and protected in the home. The first step in this process is developing a secure, loving relationship with their other parent. Work on your marriage. Keep it strong.

Build these 7 positive childhood experiences into the fabric of your family. You’ll love the results. And your children will reap the benefits for their entire life!

Good News for Parents of Children with Asthma

Northwestern University conducted a study exploring the interaction between neighborhood environmental conditions, families, and asthma symptoms in children diagnosed with asthma. Using Google Street View, the researchers took a virtual walk through each neighborhood considered to look at evidence of graffiti, abandoned cars, bars on home windows and doors, and abandoned homes. Then they interviewed the children who lived in the various communities about their family relationships, especially regarding support, trust, and conflict present in the family. Finally, they measured asthma outcomes in the children. 

They discovered that children living in neighborhoods high in danger and disorder had fewer asthma symptoms and fewer activity limitations when they had better family relationships. The children with positive family relationships also had better pulmonary functioning.  (In neighborhoods lower in danger and disorder, family relationships did not impact their asthma.)

That’s great news. Positive family relationships helped to decrease children’s symptoms of asthma. It buffered them from the impact of other negative environmental factors that might increase those symptoms (like living in a dangerous neighborhood). So, if you have a child with asthma and you want to help them manage their asthma effectively, build positive family relationships in general and a positive relationship with your child, in particular. Here are some great ways to do it.

  • Spend time in positive activities with your child. Read to them. Play games with them. Go for a walk with them. Talk with them. Develop a bedtime routine that includes time together before bed. Be creative in how you do it but spend time with your children. (Here are some Mundane Opportunities for Quality Time with your children.)
  • Keep your promises. Follow through on your word. Doing so will increase their trust in you. It will also increase their self-control (Teach Your Child the Art of Waiting).
  • Become knowledgeable of their lives. Learn about their interests. Meet their friends. Help them with schoolwork. Show interest in their hobbies. Acknowledge their strengths. Remember Parents are Students…and Guess Who the Teacher Is!
  • Acknowledge the “positives” in their life. Show gratitude for their positive actions. Thank them for doing chores (even if they’re supposed to do them). Acknowledge their efforts. Recognize their beauty. Thank them for dressing appropriately.

These four actions can help you build a positive relationship with your child. If you live in a neighborhood that presents some dangers and disorder, that relationship with help your child manage their asthma symptoms more effectively…and this treatment is free!

Turn Sibling Fights Into Life-Long Skills

Siblings fight. It’s true. They argue. They disagree. They bicker. They have spats. No matter how you choose to say it, siblings fight. And it’s a good thing they do. Disagreeing and arguing helps our children learn important life-long skills like listening, negotiating, compromising, problem-solving, and conflict resolution. (Read Sibling Rivalry-The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly to learn more.) How you respond to their arguments can help or hinder those skills from developing.  For the sake our children, here is a four-step process you can use to help your children learn some important life-long skills.

  1. Set up the game rules ahead of time. Good disagreements involve rules that promote good communication. Set these rules up ahead of time. The rules will include things like no interrupting, no shouting, no name-calling, no insulting and listen, speak kindly, use a calm tone of voice, and be respectful. Your job as a parent is to help your children stick to the rules while disagreeing. Having simple, clear rules will help you do this. You might even write them on a piece of paper and label them “The Good Fight Rules.”
  2. Say your piece…one at a time. Let each child explain what he or she sees as the problem. They will have to take turns to do this and abide by the rules determined earlier.  You will hear two different perspectives in which your children differ about the main issue. You may discover various triggers for the disagreement as well. The children will learn how their behavior impacts others. They will learn that each person may see the world in a different way. As a parent, don’t get caught up in what sounds like irrational reasons for arguments. The goal is to help each child voice their perspective and hear their sibling’s perspective. 
  3. Consider each perspective. Help your children consider not only their own but the other person’s feelings. Label those feelings. Encourage each child to consider how their words and actions impacted their sibling’s feelings. This can help them build empathy. Let them repeat what their sibling described in step number 2. This will help them learn to listen accurately.
  4. Come up with a solution. In the first three steps your children learned to share, listen, respect, and show empathy. Now they can begin to problem-solve. You can help mediate their discussion. But, let them come up with the solution. You’ll be surprised at their creativity and insight in problem-solving.

Children can start learning this process at a surprising young age, as early as 4 or 5-years-old. So, start young. As you practice this process with your children, they will gain life-long skills by arguing with their sibling, skills that will help them in all their relationships and life situations, even as adults. So follow these tips and you can Count It All Joy When Siblings Fight….

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