Tag Archive for parent child relationship

The Problem of the “Up-Side-Down” Family

Ideally, families work from the top down. Parents provide physical and emotional security, stability, and predictability for their children. Sometimes, however, everything gets turned “up-side-down.” Whether because of parental illness, work demands, drugs, or some sort of trauma, children become the primary emotional support for their parents. Parents turn to their children to receive comfort from stresses of life rather than the children turning to their parents for comfort from life’s stresses. Parents seek their children’s approval and the children become their parent’s confidant in issues well beyond their emotional maturity.  Children in an “up-side-down” family may even find themselves the only reliable cook or housekeeper in the home. Whatever the precipitator, the overwhelmed and overtaxed parent shifts the responsibility of managing their family onto the children.

As you can imagine, this has many detrimental effects for children and their families. Children in this position are more likely to drop out of school. The resulting lack of education will contribute to greater difficulty finding employment and likely result in significantly less income. This will impact future resources available to them for accessing health care as well.

Socialization also changes for children who find themselves forced to take on too many adult responsibilities in the home. As a result, they are at greater risk of earlier sexual behavior and pregnancy, as well as a greater risk for substance abuse. They may experience a loss of trust in other people, increasing their struggle to develop healthy, intimate relationships in the future.

What can we do to help prevent families from getting turned up-side-down?

  1. Parents, begin by taking care of yourself. Model a healthy lifestyle that includes getting appropriate rest, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding addictive behavior and substances. Children benefit from witnessing a parent’s healthy lifestyle. And a healthy parent provides a healthier family environment.
  2. Support other parents when you can and when they express a need. It’s easy to become overwhelmed as a parent. We all need a support group, a group of like-minded adults who can help us when things get rough or when we need a “break.” We need a “village” to help us when the stresses of parenting and life become overwhelming. We need wise adults who can help us stay on a healthy path in our parenting and family life. Develop a healthy support system of like-minded adults.
  3. Establish healthy boundaries around authority, responsibility, and caregiving. If you’re not sure where the healthy boundary lies, seek the counsel of other adults or even the counsel of a professional counselor. Remember, the parent maintains a position of “bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind” in the home.
  4. Continue to learn and grow both as a parent and as an individual. Read about parenting and personal growth. Attend a seminar. Continue to learn and grow.

These steps may not end all “up-side-down” families, but they will go a long way in helping your children benefit from a “right-side-up” family. In the process, your children will grow up in a healthy environment, gaining wise insight into healthy boundaries of authority, responsibility, and caregiving.

An Amazing,Daily 7-Minute Investment

Did you know that a simple, 7-minute investment made on a daily basis can change your relationship with your child? It can also change your child’s life forever. This simple investment involves giving your undivided attention to your child for at least 7-minutes a day. Wait…before you quit reading, consider what it feels like to receive someone’s full attention. It informs us of our value. It communicates how much the person loves us. It leaves us with a sense of joy and contentment. Don’t you want your children to experience your love as well as the sense of value, joy, and contentment that results from your undivided attention? For all the benefit your child gains, this investment is really simple. It involves only 3 steps and about 7-minutes.

First, set aside a consistent time in which you can engage your children every day. You might schedule this time first thing in the morning, at bedtime, or while eating a meal or snack together. You pick the time that works best for you and your child. During this time, focus on them. Put away any distractions. Turn off all cellphones, TVs, and gaming equipment.  Listen and follow your children’s lead in the conversation. You can ask a question to get things started, but your most important task is to listen intently with the goal of learning about your children, their day, and their lives.

Second, focus on the positive. You can make it a time of gratitude. You can talk about positive things that have happened or about dreams of the future. You might explore ways in which your children have overcome various obstacles or managed stressors they encountered. Admire their ingenuity and resilience. But save discipline, “suggestions,” or lessons for another time. If you do have to offer some criticism in the moment (and I emphasize, only if it absolutely must be addressed immediately) sandwich it between some positive, loving statements. The important aspect of this time together is to celebrate your children, their strengths, and their interests. You want them to experience how much you delight in them and value them.

Third, voice your admiration of your children’s efforts in doing the things they enjoy as well as their efforts in managing the obstacles and hardships of life. Point out how their effort has led to improvements in talents and strengths and, in turn, led to even greater satisfaction and contentment. Express your pride in their persistence. Make it all conversational with the direction and topic determined by your children and their interests at the time. The goal is to let them know you recognize their efforts and that those efforts reap positive results, even if they experience temporary setbacks.

Three steps, 7-minutes…that’s it. But they will change your relationship with your children today and far into the future. They will also change your children’s lives for years to come. The icing on the cake? You will enjoy a wonderful time growing closer to your child.

Chores…Really?

A collective groan arises at the mere mention of the word…chores. Why do we, as parents, encourage (or even pull out our hair the umpteenth time we remind) our children to engage in chores? Of course, we want them to learn the skills necessary for running a household and increasing their sense of competency and independence at the same time. We also want them to learn the responsibility of being an active part of a home. We also want to give them the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the home, increasing their sense of worth and value.

But there is another reason children and parents benefit from chores. A survey of 2,000 people in the Americas revealed that children who participated in chores also had a stronger relationship with their parents as adults. Specifically, one in four said chores helped them bond with their parents. Sixty percent of people found comfort in completing household tasks the way they learned from their parents.

In other words, parents encourage children to complete chores with the future in mind—a future in which their adult children have a more positive relationship with them and one in which their adult children find comfort in household routines. But I don’t believe that simply making children do work for us around the house will have this positive future effect. No. There are at least two caveats to these important goals.

  1. Do chores with your children. Make the completion of household tasks a family matter. Set the table together. Take out the garbage together. Clean the house together. Do yardwork together. You may have some tasks you do alone. Your children may also have some tasks they do alone (like making their bed or keeping their room clean). However, doing tasks with your children gives you the opportunity to teach them how to do the task. Even better, it provides the opportunity for you to converse with your child. In the conversation you can learn about them, and they can learn about you. In addition, you and your children will have the pleasure of looking at a task completed together after sharing time doing the task. In other words, doing household tasks together nurtures a relationship that will last a lifetime.
  2. Make sure the household tasks your child completes are meaningful. Children, especially as they move into their teen years, need to know the work they do has purpose and meaning. They don’t want to do a meaningless job (like folding underwear or ironing sheets) simply to do a job. They want a job with purpose and meaning. Give them meaningful tasks that serve a purpose in your home and explain the significance of the task while you do it together.

As you complete meaningful household chores with your children, you’ll develop a positive relationship that will last a lifetime. That, I believe, may be the most important household task for any family to complete.

Dad Vs. Mom in Their Child’s Success

A study using a sample of almost 5,000 mother-father households found that parents play a unique role in their children’s academic success. Specifically, this study confirmed that interactive activities between a father and their three-year-old contributes to that child’s improved academic performance when they are five-years-old. And when a father is actively engaged with his five-year-old child, that child tends to have higher academic scores at seven-years-old. In other words, a father who engages his child in interactive activities promotes their academic success.

The same study suggested that a mother’s involvement with their child tends to promote improved emotional and social behaviors rather than academic achievement.

In general, children benefit from having both a mother and a father actively engaged in their lives. I just find it interesting that a mother’s involvement is more predictive of emotional and social behaviors while a father’s involvement is more predictive of academic success. So, if you want an emotionally healthy child who has good social skills and does well in school, engage with your child in a variety of activities on a regular basis.

Become actively involved in your child’s life and promote their future success.

The Real Message Your Tween Wants You to Know

If you asked your tween-age child what they want to you know about life as a tween, what would they say? Actually, they might already be telling you without you even asking. You have to “listen” closely to hear the message behind their words and emotional outbursts to hear the true message.  When you do, you’ll hear at least two things that they really want you to know.

One message you may hear your tween telling you is: “Life as a tween is harder than you think.” You likely hear this message in phrases like, “You don’t understand…things are different than when you were a kid” or “You’re too old.” It is true. Life for a tween is filled with stress. They have to learn to navigate peer relationships and peer pressures. Their bodies are changing. They have to learn to manage their hormone infused, shape changing bodies as well as their changing emotions and attractions. They also face academic pressure, family pressures, and threats to their self-concept. Their world grows exponentially, causing them to question and reassess values they merely accepted as younger children.

As a parent, you can help your tween feel more understood by listening deeply. Invest in regular one-on-one times with your tween. Ask about their world, their friends, their concerns…and listen intently.

You can also help your tween manage the stress of the tween years by encouraging regular physical activity in their lives. Tweens who get an hour or more of exercise a day exhibit less physical reactivity when faced with a stressful task. Specifically, they produce less cortisol (stress hormone) in response to stressful situations. They manage stress more effectively.

A second message your Tween may tell you is: “I’m not a kid anymore.” You may have heard this statement directly or in comments like “Why do I still have to go to bed so early?” or “You don’t care what I think.” Our tween-age children want us to take them seriously, to recognize their growing knowledge and insights, to give genuine consideration to their input and ideas. They want to move from the “kids’ table” to find a seat with the adults.

In fact, our tweens can teach us a lot. They have a world of knowledge at their fingertips (their cell phones) and they’re not afraid to use it. They need the adults in their life to validate their growing knowledge and to provide some guidance in learning which sources of knowledge to trust and which to question.  As a parent, we can validate their growing knowledge by listening and engaging them in conversation. We can allow them to teach us while we ask questions and further the discussion, guiding them and motivating them to discern the information they gather.

Parents can also involve their tweens in family decisions, like vacation planning or meal planning. They can involve their tween in discussions of current events. Our tweens also need us to provide them with opportunities to make meaningful contributions to the management of the household. They need us to trust them with significant household duties and personal responsibility.

These are two very important messages our tweens want their parents to hear…and parents really need to hear. Not only do we need to hear these messages, but we also need to implement them into our relationship with and our expectations of our tweens. Probably I should mention one more.

“I don’t like when you call us ‘tweens.’” Remember that one. No one likes to carry a label that leads to assumptions and preconceived ideas. Everyone is an individual with personal interests and ideas. So, call your child by their name or some endearing term and uplifting nickname. Explore their individuality and let them teach you about their personal interests and idiosyncrasies. It will be the beginning of a lifelong beautiful relationship.

Leaving the Home of Helicopter Parents

“Helicopter parenting” is characterized by over-involvement, over-protection, and over-control. It contributes to negative results for children, but does that negative impact linger after they leave home for college? One group of researchers decided to find out. They collected demographic data from 505 college students as well as information about the parenting they received growing up and the level of interpersonal conflict they experience in college. In a second round of surveys, they measured the students’ sense of entitlement and their fear of missing out.

The results of this study indicate that students who were raised under “helicopter parents” had more interpersonal conflict with peers. This seemed to stem from an increased sense of entitlement and fear of missing out, which also increased under the tutelage of “helicopter parents.” In other words, “helicopter parenting” contributed to a child feeling entitled. It also contributes to them developing an overestimation of their abilities, an excessive focus on self, and a potential lack of autonomy. Those qualities contribute to greater interpersonal conflict even after they left the nest of the “helicopter parents.” 

So, what can a parent do to avoid the impact of being a “helicopter parent”? Balance the job of parenting to avoid becoming over-protective and over-involved. Strive for balance in your parenting style. For instance,

  • Strive for a balance between involvement with your child and encouraging autonomy in your child. It can prove difficult to “let go,” but the benefits of letting our children and teens practice age-appropriate autonomy are tremendous and lifelong. Provide your children the opportunities to behave in autonomous ways.  
  • Strive for a balance between assisting your child (i.e., making sure they get all their school projects done and are prepared for tests, choosing their clothing or activities) and letting them experience the consequences of their choices. Children learn from the lived consequences of their choices and behaviors. Trust them to manage and learn from those consequences.
  • Strive for a balance between jumping in to save your child from struggling relationships and letting them resolve their own conflicts. Step back and trust your child. Ask if they want help and help if they ask. Let them know you’re “in their corner,” but you trust them to be “in the ring” managing the interactions. They will learn so much when you stay “in their corner” and out of the ring, trusting them to manage their relationships. You might even be surprised at how effectively they do so.
  • Strive for a balance between praising your child for their achievements and acknowledging their effort and choices. Our children learn best when we acknowledge their efforts. This helps them develop a growth mindset which will benefit them throughout their life. Focus on effort, not end product achievement.

There are many other areas in which a parent strives for balance. In fact, parenting often feels like one big balancing act. But the benefits of striving for that balance far outweigh the consequences of over-involvement and over-protection in our children’s lives.

Be a Bigger, Stronger Parent

I overheard two children talking on the playground. One said, “My dad’s bigger than your dad.” The other replied, “Well my dad is stronger….” They were obviously at the age of admiring and adoring their fathers. In their early, concrete thinking stage of development they truly thought of their dads as the “strongest” or “biggest.” It struck me, though, that their conversation reminded me of a phrase from the *Circle of Security. The Circle of Security notes that our children need us, as parents, to be “Bigger, Stronger, Wiser, and Kind.” And, I believe, they still need us to be a “bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind” parent when they become teens. 

Our children and teens need us to be “bigger,” not in size but in our level of maturity. They need us to be the “bigger person,” big enough to not get dragged into the drama of childhood tantrums, teen arguments, and temporary moods. They need us to be big enough to avoid “taking the bait” and endlessly engaging in unnecessary battles. Instead of “taking the bait” or getting drawn into the drama, they need us to be big enough to respond maturely from our values and our concern for their well-being, not our fears and our hurt feelings. Which leads me to…

Our children and teens need us to be “stronger,” not necessarily physically stronger but emotionally self-controlled. They need us to be strong enough that we are not overwhelmed by their emotions, not made insecure by their hurtful words, and not fearful of setting healthy boundaries for their safety. They need us to be strong enough to manage our own emotions, so we do not become overwhelmed by their emotions. They need us to provide a presence in which they can gain the strength to manage their emotions from our emotional strength. They need us to be strong enough to provide a safe haven from which they can experience and learn from their emotions. (How Does Your Family Feel About Emotions?)

Our children and teens need us to be “wiser.” They need us to be wise enough to know when something that upsets them is their responsibility and not our responsibility. Wise enough to know when to step back and let them find their own solution, suffer their own consequence, or enjoy their own reward.  Wise enough to know when to encourage and support and wise enough to know when to actually step in to help.  Wise enough to know when to let them go and when to keep them close Wise enough to allow their curiosity to blossom.

And, of course, our children need us to be “kind.” Our children need us to be kind enough to treat them with respect. Kind enough to give them our time and our attention, even if we might be a little frustrated with them. They need us to be kind enough to express our love to them in appropriate ways on a daily basis.

Remember, in relation to your children, it’s important to always be the “bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind” parent. Those qualities provide the scaffolding that will enable their healthy emotional, mental, and relational growth. (*I have not been trained or certified in the Circle of Security philosophy. As a result, I don’t present these thoughts representative of the thoughts of the Circle of Security group. For more information on their philosophy, I encourage you to visit their site. They offer an excellent parenting philosophy.)

Our Answer to One Question Determines Our Future

My wife and I were visiting Charleston, North Carolina when we saw this plaque. It reads: “I want people to see children as human beings and not think of the money it costs nor to think of the amount of time it will take, but to think of the lives that can be developed into Americans who will redeem the soul of America and will really make America a great country.” –Septima Clark

Septima Clark did not just make the statement, she walked the talk. She became known as the “Grandmother” of the Civil Rights Movement. She started “Citizenship schools” that taught adult literacy and “citizenship rights.” These schools instilled self-pride, cultural-pride, literacy, and a sense of one’s citizenship rights.

Why do I mention this quote? Because Ms. Clark states truth. Our children thrive when we see them as human beings rather than simply children. We need not think of our children as financial burdens or “little time-suckers.” They are a blessing, a blessing upon which our present and our future rest. They are the ones who will carry our values and priorities into the future. They will redeem our communities and our country.

I remember learning a similar idea in my early college years. I don’t remember the exact quote, but the “gist of the idea” stated that a culture can be redeemed or destroyed in a single generation. The way in which we treat our children, the manner in which we raise them, will have a great determining factor on the course of our future…similar to what Septima Clark implied. Consider:

  • If we treat our children with kindness, they will take kindness into the future. If we treat them harshly, they will take harshness into the future.
  • If we treat our children with respect, they will take respect into the future. If we treat them with disrespect, disrespect will grow more rampant.
  • If we hold our children accountable in an appropriate manner, they will take accountability into the future. If we become overly permissive, they will also become permissive.
  • If we hold our children to age-appropriate expectations for contributing to the family and home, they will continue to see the joy of contributing to a happy home and family. If we become overbearing, harsh, or hold inappropriate expectations of our children, they will carry the same forward…and who wants to live in a community filled with those who are overbearing, harsh, and carry unreasonable expectations.

You get the idea. How we treat our children will determine our future. Let’s begin to think of our children as blessings—lives that can be nurtured to bless others, “lives that can be developed into Americans who will redeem the soul of America and will really make America a great country.”  How will we treat our children? Consider carefully for it’s a question with enormous implications. Our future depends on our answer.

The Impact on Your Child of How You Feel About Their Other Parent

It’s true. Mothers and fathers often have different ideas about raising children. They come to the parenting relationship with different styles and even different priorities, all of which can be negotiated through discussions and compromise.  In fact, it’s important to work out those differences because how one parent sees the other parent’s level of cooperation and competence has a huge impact on their child’s behavior and future social relations.  

A study out of The Ohio State University revealed that the way parents viewed their coparent played a crucial role in the behavioral and social adjustment of their children. This study involved 2,915 low-income couples with children under 5-years-old and living in one of seven U.S. states. At the start of the study, parents were asked how they related to one another as parents. In other words, they were asked about their coparenting relationship. Their answers led the research team to separate them into four groups:

  • Group 1: Both parents saw their coparenting relationship as “highly positive.” This group made up 43% of the total.
  • Group 2: Both parents saw their coparenting relationship as “moderately positive,” but the mothers were less positive about the father’s parenting. This group made up 32% of the total.
  • Group 3: Both parents saw their coparenting relationship as “moderately positive,” but the fathers were less positive about the mother’s parenting. This group comprised 16% of the total.
  • Group 4: Both parents saw their coparenting relationship as being of “low quality.” Fortunately, this group comprised only 9% of the total.

Eighteen months later, the parents were asked to rate their children’s behavioral adjustment and social competence.  Not surprisingly, the children of parents who both reported having a “highly positive” coparenting relationship (Group 1) showed the best adjustment. They exhibited the fewest behavioral problems and the highest level of social competence.  Group 2 also showed a high level of adjustment—fewer behavioral problems and greater social competence.

The final two groups showed the lowest levels of adjustment. Interesting, a father’s negative perception of the mother’s coparenting (Group 3) had a greater negative impact on children’s behavior and social competence than a mother’s negative perception of a father’s coparenting (Group 2). Of course, when both parents reported a poor coparenting relationship, the children struggled the most with behavioral adjustment and social competence.

With this in mind, if you want your child to have fewer behavioral problems and greater social competence, focus on nurturing a strong coparenting relationship with their other parent.

  • Accept differences. You will have different ideas and styles than your children’s other parent. Most of those differences will be minor. For instance, fathers tend to engage in more rough and tumble play. Mothers tend to offer more nurturance. Fathers encourage “shaking it off.” Mothers tend to comfort first. In my marriage, I tend to be the one willing to get dessert or a special treat as part of our “get together.” My wife enjoys a more interactive engagement without food. Accept those differences. Allow the other parent the freedom to parent slightly differently than you.
  • Discuss and negotiate aspects you deem most important. You will discover some areas of parental responsibility that you believe essential. Talk with the other parent about those areas of parenting. Explain your reasons and your concerns. Negotiate. Listen. Compromise.
  • Provide opportunities for your child to connect with their other parent. Let both parents enjoy one-on-one time with each child as well as periods of time in which each parent has sole responsibility for all the children. We not only connect through the fun experiences but through the daily chores of parenting—changing diapers, doing household chores together, engaging in activities together, and even running errands together.
  • Never “bad mouth” your child’s other parent. No name-calling, undermining, or demeaning. Encourage your children to respect and honor their other parent through your example as well as your instruction.
  • Keep your child’s other parent up-to-date. Communicate appointments and activities. Share information about physical changes or needs, friends, and community involvement.
  • Disagree in private. You will inevitably have disagreements with the other parent. When you do, wait until you are alone with them before discussing the disagreement. Ask them about their perception, intent, and motive rather than jumping to a negative assumption. After hearing their intent and motives, explain your concerns. Listen. Negotiate. Compromise.
  • Discipline together. Don’t leave the discipline to one parent. Both parents need to assist in discipline. Support one another in discipline. If you disagree, disagree in private. Your children will benefit from seeing you and their other parent working together for their good.
  • Communicate. Listen. Express yourself. Listen. Communicate.

These practices will help you nurture a positive relationship with your children’s other parent. That strong coparenting relationship will help decrease your children’s behavioral problems. It will also increase their social competence. Those two outcomes are well worth nurturing a positive coparenting relationship.

Your Daughter’s Body Image, Humor, & You

Humor is a powerful method of communication. In fact, how a woman uses humor can impact her body image. And do you know who contributes to how your daughter learns to use humor? You…her parent. But I get ahead of myself. Let me return to “how a woman uses humor can impact her body image.”

Research completed at the University of Surrey and published in the fall of 2022 surveyed 216 women to analyze their style of humor and their body perception. The styles of humor included coping humor, self-enhancing humor, and self-defeating humor. Coping humor represents a person’s general use of humor to cope with stressful events. Self-enhancing humor represents a person’s ability to see the “absurdities of life, even when alone,” and then use those observations in a humorous way to maintain positive levels of self-esteem. Self-defeating humor, on the other hand, often involves self-denigrating comments about “my” self-perceived weaknesses in an attempt to connect with others. (Can you see where this is going?)

Results indicated:

  • Coping humor was only associated with less body criticism, but not with “body positive” attributes like appreciating one’s body and recognizing the common humanity of various body types (body kindness).
  • Self-enhancing humor, on the other hand, was associated with higher levels of body appreciation and body kindness. It was also associated with less emotional eating than those who used self-defeating humor.
  • Self-defeating humor was associated with higher body criticism, lower engagement in body appreciation, a higher drive for thinness (defined as excessive concern about dieting and weight gain), and increased emotional eating.

What does this mean for our families? We want our daughters to learn the benefits of humor—specifically, coping humor and self-enhancing humor. We want them to experience the benefits of using humor in a healthy way not in a self-defeating way. (“Don’t take my picture, I might break your camera.” “Slow down, my short legs barely reach the ground.”) 

As stated above, our daughters learn their sense of humor from us, their parents. They will model the way we use humor about ourselves. They will repeat how we use humor about them as well. As a result, we need to use wisdom in our humor. Focus on humor that lifts people up (including ourselves) and enhances those around us, especially our daughters. It will help our daughters have a better body image, a greater level of kindness toward themselves and their body, and a higher level of motivation to care for their body in healthy ways.  So, before you crack that joke about eating or clothes or some other pointed topic…think twice. Only use humor in love and kindness.

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