Tag Archive for parent child relationship

The Fantastic Duo of Giving: An Experiment with Toys

Several young couples have told me about the vast number of toys in their home. They have so many toys that some even remain unopened. Their children have grown tired of other toys… now they lay in a corner collecting dust. Stuffed animals that once lined the bed are now stuffed in a closet. Broken Barbie Dolls lay under the bed forgotten. And, of course there are the boxes and wrappings that our children found more fun to play with than the expensive toys the boxes protected! It all makes me wonder: how many toys do our children need?

With this in mind, I propose an experiment. A challenging experiment that you and your child will find rewarding when it is all said and done. It’s an experiment to thin out the toys. Here are the steps involved.

  1. Team up with your child and talk about the virtues of sharing and gratitude. You might also want to pick a nice name for the project, like Team Generosity or The Great Toy Giveaway.
  2. As a team, pick out the toys you will give away to those who have less. You can identify the toys no longer used to give away and choose a couple more to represent an extra level of generosity and caring.
  3. Decide where you want to give the toys to. You might choose the Salvation Army, a toy lending library, or even someone you know. You can also learn about children who might have a need through an area social service agency or church.
  4. Pick a time in which you and your child (The Fantastic Duo of Giving) can deliver the toys to the charity the two of you agreed upon.
  5. Deliver the toys.
  6. Finally, talk about the experience with your child. What, if anything, was difficult? What was easy?  Now that it is finished, how do you both feel?

Not only does this experiment allow you and your child to declutter the toy room, but it also allows you to spend time together as well (and isn’t that what children really want?). As a bonus, your child will likely experience the joy of generosity and gratitude as they complete this process…and that experience may just prompt more great team giveaways. (For more read One Ingredient of Happy Children.)

The Job Every Teen Has & Every Parent Struggles With

Adolescents have a job in our society. Their job receives no monetary reward; and many parents struggle with letting their adolescent do their job. The job is to become their own person, to prepare themselves emotionally and mentally to leave home. To complete this job, our teens often withdraw some from the parent-child relationship. They spend more time with their peers and disclose less to their parents. However, a study involving 1,001 13-to 16-years-old teens suggests a way in which parents can encourage better communication with their teen during this time and, as a result, promote more teen disclosure even while their teen does their job of becoming independent. The researchers had teens watch a parent and teen converse about difficult situations. The teens then rated the conversations and the parent-teen relationship they witnessed. What did the researchers discover? What did the teens say in their interpretation of the conversations?

  1. When a parent was genuinely engaged with their teen in conversation, teens felt more authentic and connected to their parent.
  2. When a parent was visibly attentive, the teen was more likely to “open up” and engage in more self-disclosure.

That’s all well and good. But what exactly does “genuinely engaged” and “visibly attentive” look like? According to the researchers of this study, these skills involve at least 4 factors.

  1. Maintaining good eye contact.
  2. Engaging in nonverbal communication such as head nodding.
  3. Engaging in verbal acknowledgment and gratitude to the teen for “opening up.”
  4. Verbally and openly appreciating the teen’s honesty as well as their effort in sharing.

I would also add factors five through eight as factors involved in being “genuinely engaged” and “visibly attentive:”

  1. Verbal validation of their struggle to “make the right choice” or “do the right thing.”
  2. Statements explicitly validating and labeling their emotion in response to the difficult situation.
  3. Asking nonjudgmental questions to clarify the situation and assure you understand. A curiosity about your teen’s thoughts and emotions about the situation. A genuine interest in how they view the situation and how it impacts them.
  4. Listen. Don’t lecture. Don’t problem-solve. Listen

These skills add up to “attentive listening” and “genuine engagement” with your teen. “Attentive listening” and “genuine engagement” with your teen results in greater intimacy and better parent-teen communication…and that’s a beautiful thing.

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?

If I Had Only Known Then…

I wish I had written this blog about 10 years ago. I could have used the information. But I suppose late is better than never. And, if you have children or teens in your home right now, you’ll find this information very helpful. I remember my daughter coming home angry from school or coming home upset after an outing with friends. Not every time… but several times. Has that happened to you? If it hasn’t and you have children, it probably will. Anyway, I hate to see my daughters upset so I tried to fix the problem and make them feel better. Impossible. Didn’t help.  I tried using humor a few times, but it usually ended up with them directing their anger at me. Apparently, using dad humor when your children are upset is a bad idea. I reasoned with them. No good. Only made it worse. Eventually, I just threw up my hands in defeat and let them stew in their frustration and anger.

If only I had known what this study out of Ohio State University reveals. It could have saved me a lot of heartache. This study consisted of three experiments that included a total of 307 participants. Each participant spent five minutes writing about an incident that made them “intensely angry.” Then, they verbally described the incident to a researcher. As you can imagine, their anger grew as they completed this exercise.

After listening to the participant describe their anger-provoking incident, the researcher either validated or invalidated their angry feelings. They either responded with validating comments like, “Of course, you’d be angry about that” and “I can understand getting angry about that” or invalidating comments like, “That doesn’t sound like anger,” or “Why would you get angry about that?”

Not surprisingly, participants who heard validating comments recovered their positive emotional states. Those who heard invalidating comments did not. In fact, the “recovered positive mood” of the validated participants either matched or exceeded their positive mood prior to recalling the anger-provoking incident.

If only I had known that 10 years ago. I could have responded to my daughter’s anger about school incidents or conflict with friends with validating comments. You know:

  • “I can understand how that would make you angry.”
  • “Wow, that would really make someone angry.”
  • “I’d be angry about that, too.”

Simple, validating comments that could have helped my daughters regain their positive mood. Validating comments that could have enabled us to have a more enjoyable evening. Oh, but I do have a secret about this idea of validating though. It works with adults, too—adults like my spouse and my adult children. And, it has already saved a few evenings of heartache.  Give it a try. Validate the angry feelings and enjoy an evening of positive moods. (Validating will also help you use the power of empathy in connecting with your family.)

Try Saying This Instead of That

Sometimes I like a simple cheat sheet. It gives me great ideas and primes my mind to come up with some more ideas. With that in mind, here is a cheat sheet for parenting phrases we can use instead of the one that immediately comes to mind when our children do something…eh…crazy. So…

Instead of saying: “What were you thinking?”

Say: “Let me help you with this. I think we can find a better way together.”

Instead of saying: “Stop talking to me like that! You’re embarrassing everyone.”

Say: “Let’s go to a more private place to talk about this.”

Instead of saying: “That’s a good boy.”

Say: “Thank you for being so thoughtful.”

Instead of saying: “I can’t believe you did that. Don’t be stupid.”

Say: “Let’s talk about how you came up with that idea and what happened. Then we can think about another way to respond.”

Instead of saying: “How many times do I have to tell you?”

Say: “We’ve talked about this. What did I tell you before?”

Instead of saying: “Do it again and you’ll lose your Xbox.”

Say: “I see you’re really tempted to do that. Let’s go get a drink and talk about what you need to resist that temptation.”

Instead of saying: “Don’t yell at me!”

Say: “I see this is really important to you and I want to hear what you have to say. Can we talk about it nicely or should we take a break to calm down first?”

What are some other helpful phrases you use that are helpful?

Nurture Your Child’s Academic Success

Do you remember the feeling you had when “school’s out for summer.”? It was the moment of freedom and fun. Now that we have children in school, many parents worry that their children will fall behind over the summer months when they don’t have classes or a need to “study for the test.” But good news! A study published in 2019 suggests something more important than extra studies for a child’s academic success—TIME—specifically, time parents spend with their children. This study involved 22,000 children in Israel who lost a parent to death before the age of 18 years, 77,000 children whose parents divorced, and 600,000 children who did not experience parental death or divorce. Not surprisingly, the death of a parent or divorce impacted a child’s academic success. But the specifics were much more interesting than that.

  • If a mother passed away, a father’s education became more important to the child’s academic success.
  • If a father passes away, a mother’s education became more important to a child’s academic success.
  • Overall, the results suggest that parental presence and involvement were more important than income. If income were the key factor, then losing the “bread winner” would have a larger academic impact. But it did not. In fact, the loss of the parent who spent more time with the child (generally the mother in this study) had the bigger impact. Time spent together was more important than income in promoting academic success in this study.
  • The negative effect of losing a mother can be partially minimized if the father remarries.
  • The research revealed similar results when a child experienced divorce in their family.

So, do you want to keep your child’s academic success moving forward over the summer months? Spend time with them. The time parents spend with their children has a powerful impact on their educational achievement…even more than income. Besides that, it’s fun to spend time with your children. You’ll enjoy the time you spend with your child. Your child will enjoy the time you spend with them. You will also promote their academic success as you develop an intimate relationship that will last…through college and beyond.

The Dangers of Strict Parenting?

Most parents want their children to grow into healthy, responsible adults. They don’t want defiant teens or lazy young adults as the fruit of their parenting labors. The parental fear that our children might become defiant or lazy can lead to a strict, controlling style of parenting that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Let me explain. Strict parents respond to their fears with rules and more rules. They focus so much on the rules that they neglect the relationship with their child. Their children come to believe that rules are more important to their parent than they are. They learn that performance, achievement, and living up to strict standards are necessary ingredients for acceptance. Strict parents punish their child any time they break a rule or falls short of a standard… And standards are generally high and rigid. Obedience is expected at all times…at all ages…without question or discussion. Discipline often includes harsh words, guilt inducing
statements, and shame.  They make comments like:

  • “I won’t let my kid walk all over me.”
  • “My children better behave.”
  • “I’m tough on them because I don’t want them to end up on drugs or in jail.”
  • “Kids need a parent, not a friend.”
  • “Quit crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

Unfortunately, strict parents come off as unresponsive, cold, and unsupportive. You can imagine that this type of strict parenting has a negative impact of children, a self-fulfilling prophecy leading to the very things the parent fears. (Learn more about parental assumptions and how they impact discipline in Parental Assumptions & the Cycle of Discipline.) In fact, research suggests that children raised with this type of parenting:

  • tend to exhibit more rebellion, anger, aggression, and delinquency,
  • lie more often,
  • are more likely to be unhappy and suffer from depression,
  • develop extrinsic motivation and show less initiative and perseverance as a result,
  • lack self-esteem and confidence in decision-making,
  • tend to have greater peer rejection and relationship problems, especially in romantic
    relationships,

All that being said, our children do need structure, limits, and rules, don’t they? Don’t parents need to enforce those rules and limits? Good questions… and the answer is “yes.” Not all strict parenting is dangerous. Some is beneficial. It all depends on at least two things.

  1. What motivates the parent to be strict. Strict rules and limits become dangerous
    when parental fear motivates their creation and enforcement. They become even more dangerous when that fear leads to parental attempts to control. However, rules and limits motivated by a sincere desire to teach accountability and responsibility, to instill self-discipline and an awareness of others, and to encourage healthy self-reliance can lead to a positive outcome…especially when combined with #2 below.
  2. The type of relationship the parent builds with their child. When a parent builds a responsive, nurturing relationship with their child, they know what structure and limits will most benefit their child at their current maturity level. Their child will also respond better to the limits when they feel their parent listens and is responsive to their needs. Building a warm, caring relationship contributes to a child who desires to please their parent by obeying rules and limits appropriate to their maturity level. All-in-all, the stronger the parent-child relationship, the less likely the rules feel strict. Instead, they become an expression of love and a much-desired safety net. (Learn more in What “Master” Parents Do.)

Perhaps we can sum this up with two familiar formulas:

  • Rules without Relationships contributes to Rebellion in the parent-child relationship.
  • Relationships with Rules contributes to Resilient children in the parent-child relationship.

Climbing the Social Ladder of Adolescence

A recent study from the University of California—Davis explored teens who bully and who they bully. The study followed 3,000 eighth, ninth, and tenth grade students over the course of a school year. They discovered that teens who bullied often bullied their friends not strangers or those of lower social status. In fact, they uncovered five interesting patterns.

  1. Teens who were friends in the fall but not in the spring were three times more likely to bully or victimize each other in the spring. 
  2. Teens who remained friends for the entire year, however, were four times more likely to bully one another in the spring. Interestingly, teens bullied those who remained their friend more often than those who did not remain friends with them.
  3. Teens who had overlapping friendships were roughly three times” more likely to bully one another than those who did not have overlapping friendships.
  4. Teens who share the same bullies or the same victims are more than twice as likely to bully each other.
  5. Finally, being bullied by a friend is painful. It is associated with a significant increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The researchers believe that this information suggests that bullying behavior comes with social rewards. It leads to an increase in social status. In other words, teens were climbing the social ladder of adolescence by bullying their friends. Teens get caught up in popularity. They base their self-concept on the popularity of their social media posts and their popularity at school. They seem to equate popular with acceptance and will do almost anything to get accepted…even if it means bullying a friend to move up the ladder of acceptance in the popular crowd.

With this in mind, what can a parent do to help decrease bullying? 

  • Develop a secure relationship with your child. Spend time with your child. Let them know that you love and accept them. Learn about their interests. Support and encourage their dreams. As you develop a strong relationship with your teen, they will feel less pull to “need” the status of popularity among their peers.
  • Involve your children and teens in groups that encourage teamwork. Rather than competing for popularity, teamwork encourages teens to cooperate and work together for a common goal, to encourage one another and support one another’s growth for the good of the team.
  • Involve your children and teens in groups that encourage community and service. This might include church groups, scouting groups, or service groups. These groups can teach your teen to work with others in serving and accomplishing goals rather than competing to be more popular than the other guy. Teens can also learn to accept and appreciate one another’s gifts in working toward a common goal while volunteering in the community.
  • On a slightly different note, keep your marriage strong. At least one study reveal that teens who see their parents as loving toward one another are less likely to engage in cyberbullying. Invest in your marriage.

By implementing these three tips, you lessen the chance of your child becoming a bully to “climb the social ladder” of peer relationships. They’ll be kinder. They’ll be happier. And so will you.

Adolescence, Depression, & Technology

Two recent studies explored the relationship between adolescents, video games, and internet use. Unwrapping the first study reveals a surprise. A research team from UCL, Karolinska Institute, and the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute reviewed data from 11,341 adolescents born between 2000-2002. At the age of 11 years, these adolescents answered questions about their time spent on social media, time spent playing video games, and general internet use. They also answered questions about their mood, any loss of pleasure, and levels of concentration at the age 14 years. After ruling out other potential factors, the research team found that boys who played video games most days at age 11 had 24% fewer depressive symptoms at the age of 14 than did boys who played video games less than one time a mouth. Somewhat surprisingly, moderate video game playing at 11 years of age was associated with fewer depressive symptoms at 14 years of age.

A second study, published in Child Development, gathered data from a study involving 1,750 high school students over a three-year period, through the ages of 16, 17, and 18 years. This study explored risk factors contributing to problematic internet use (or internet addiction). The research suggested three harmful effects of problematic internet use and each of these effects had a reciprocal relationship with internet use. In other words, problematic internet use increased these negative outcomes and these negative outcomes increased problematic internet use. The negative outcomes included higher levels of depression, increased substance abuse, and lower levels of academic achievement. We all want to avoid those outcomes. So, what risk factors contributed to problematic internet use? And what can you do about it?

  1. A lack of satisfying relationships or the perceived inadequacy of social networks contributed to problematic internet use. In other words, loneliness predicts problematic internet use. With that in mind, involve your children in community. Enroll them in scouting, sports, dance lessons, theatre, or other group activities. Involve them in a local church youth group. Give them the opportunities to develop relationships with peers and other trusted adults in the community.
  2. Parenting practices, as perceived by the teen, contributed to the level of teen internet use. Parenting perceived as warm, empathetic, interested, and close led to healthy internet use. Parenting perceived as neglectful, being inconsistently available and consistently unresponsive, predicted problematic internet use. This draws attention to the need to build a positive connection with your children. Take time to develop a warm, loving relationship by spending time together and engaging in activities together. Talk, go on outings together, worship together, attend their concerts and sporting events, share meals together. Invest time and attention in developing a positive, loving relationship with your children. (By the way, did you know your parenting style could be killing you?)
  3. Paternal neglect, neglect by a father, had a particularly strong relationship to problematic internet use. Dads, get involved with your children. If you need ideas for involvement in your children’s lives, check out the “cheat codes for Dads.”

A Word of Warning for Parents

A study published in a 2020 issue of Development and Psychology offers an important warning for parents (Does ‘Harsh Parenting’ Lead to Smaller Brains?). Researchers from the Université de Montréal in partnership with researchers from Stanford University monitored parenting practices and child anxiety levels every year while the children were between the ages of 2 years and 9 years. Then between the ages of 12 and 16 years, the researchers assessed the same children’s anxiety levels. They also performed MRI’s. What this data revealed serves as an important warning to all parents. Here it is: Repetitive exposure to harsh parenting practices during childhood led to smaller brain structures in adolescence. These practices also contributed to higher anxiety levels in adolescence. Consider these results carefully:

  • First, we need to consider what “harsh parenting practices” entail. For this study, harsh parenting practices included getting angry, hitting (spanking or smacking), shaking, and/or yelling. Harsh parenting practices fell short of legally abusive practices. In fact, many people find the parenting practices included in the definition of “harsh parenting practices” acceptable. Yet, according to this study, these harsh practices have a potentially negative impact on our children… which brings us to the next bullet point.
  • Harsh parenting practices have a negative impact when used repetitively, when they become your normal pattern of parenting.  If you have a bad day and behave harshly on occasion, it will likely not have a large negative impact on your child. But a consistent, repetitive pattern of harsh parenting will have a negative impact. That being said, we do our best to avoid even rare occasions of harsh parenting because of the potential negative impact it can have over time.
  • The impact of harsh parenting practices actually changed the physical structure of the children’s brains in this study. Those who experienced a high degree of harsh parenting exhibited a smaller prefrontal cortex and a smaller amygdala. These two areas of the brain play a key role in regulating emotions. In other words, the physical changes to the brain in response to harsh parenting makes it more likely that your child will more be overwhelmed by his or her emotions, leading them to shut down, cry, or act impulsively behaviors in response to overwhelming emotions such as desire, fear, sadness, or loneliness.
  • The brain regions impacted by harsh parenting also play a role in the development of anxiety.  Harsh parenting then, may contribute to anxiety.

Perhaps children need to come with a warning label: “Beware. Consistent use of harsh discipline measures is hazardous to your child’s brain development and mental health.” 

Now that we know the warning, how can we effectively discipline our children? Here are a couple of quick principles to keep in mind.

  1. Children learn best by example. Live the life you desire them to learn.
  2. Children learn best within the context of a positive relationship. Invest time and energy in developing a positive relationship with your children. Learn about their interests.  Spend time playing, eating, and talking together.
  3. Children thrive in a predictable and structured (not rigid) environment. Develop daily routines and rituals to help structure the day. Good routines actually help to discipline proactively, before a problem even arises.
  4. Children learn best when they know the rules and the rules are age-appropriate. Take time to establish concise, age-appropriate rules in your home. Communicate them clearly to your children.

These four principles lay the groundwork for a positive style of parenting within which your children will thrive, a parenting style based on an appropriate balance of intimate relationship and appropriate structure.

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