Tag Archive for parenting

The Long-Term Impact of Junk Food on the Teen Brain

Family life is busy these days. Families run from activity to activity stopping to grab something quick and easy to eat on the way. Unfortunately, those “quick and easy” meals are often high in fat and sugar. A University of Southern California study found that a high-fat, sugary diet during teen years may contribute to lower levels of acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter essential for memory, learning, and attention. This study suggests that a diet high in fat and sugar lowers acetylcholine which then interfered with memory…and not just for a short time but for a lifetime! It contributed to a lower level of acetylcholine that did not reverse by merely reimplementing a healthy diet. As a result, memory did not improve with the shift to a healthy diet. The damage was done and, in this study, was only reversed with the use of medication. The authors of the study noted that “more research is needed to know how memory problems from a junk food diet during adolescence can be reversed.”

I don’t want to sound alarmist. But I do want to encourage families to think differently about their teens, their diet, and time. After all, families can avoid this whole mess by taking the time to promote a healthy diet in the home. That time invested in promoted a healthy diet for our teens is well worth the effort though. They will reap a lifetime of benefits from a healthy diet. In addition, our teens need a healthy diet to thrive physically and mentally for today and as they mature.

What can you do to make sure they eat a healthy diet? First and foremost, eat at least one family meal a day as many days a week as possible. Family meal preparation tends to result in our children eating healthier foods and a healthier balance of foods. Eating as a family not only promotes healthy eating habits, but it also promotes positive family relationships. This one suggestion may prove the most effective means of improving your adolescent’s healthy eating habits.

Second, keep healthy snacks in your home. Encourage your children and teens to eat fruits and nuts for snacks. Try hummus or veggies when hunger strikes. Greek yogurt, guacamole and tortilla chips, trail mix…. You get the idea. Keep healthy snacks on hand and ready. These healthy snacks can even provide tasty nutrition while you’re on the run.

Our adolescents (and our children) need a healthy diet to lay the foundation for the healthiest development possible. A healthy diet may demand some time and effort to put in place, but your adolescents will reap the benefits for a lifetime. They will experience healthier brain development and functioning. They will learn healthy eating habits that will support them physically and mentally for a lifetime. And you’ll enjoy watching them mature.

Nurture Your Child’s “Why”

An old proverb tells us that “curiosity killed the cat.” Fortunately, our children are not cats because they ca ask “why” incessantly. But in actuality, curiosity helps children learn and grow, even survive. It contributes to more positive emotions and less anxiety. It leads to higher achievement as well as stronger, healthier relationships (see Six Surprising Benefits of Curiosity for more). With that in mind, I’d like to nurture my children’s curiosity but I’m curious as to how.  Scott Shigeoka has a suggestion. He suggests teaching our children (and ourselves) to DIVE.

Detach from the assumptions, biases, and certainties you might cling to. Challenge your assumptions with alternative explanations and possibilities. For instance, if your friend shows up late, detach from the assumption that they don’t care or don’t respect your time. Consider the possibility of traffic, a minor emergency, or a previous appoint going longer than expected. Then, when you see them, ask. In other words, don’t jump to conclusions or assume the worst. Don’t become rigid in your assumptions and thoughts. Challenge yourself to think the best of others. Examine your beliefs and thoughts to assure their accuracy and truth. Be curious.

Intend to practice curiosity. Be intentional in your practice of curiosity. Be deliberate. This will involve nurturing a mindset that purposefully practices curiosity.  Think about questions you might ask another person. Visualize how you might interact in a loving, curious manner. If you have a disagreement or conflict, intentionally begin to explore areas of agreement that might exist and how you might express curiosity about the other person’s point of view.

Value other people. We tend to become more curious about those things and people we value. It’s hard to show curiosity about those things we just don’t care about. So intentionally recognize the inherent dignity in people, including yourself. Acknowledge their inherent value. Recognize that people are complex being with families, joys, struggles, personalities, beliefs, likes, and dislikes…just like you. When you recognize another’s complexity and acknowledge their dignity and value, you can more easily choose to understand rather than judge and love rather than ignore.

Embrace your life, especially the hard times. Embracing the hard times reminds us to get curious about those things that arouse our fears, like changes and transitions that happen around us and in us throughout our lives. Too many times we shut down and dig in when changes occur. This can lead to defensiveness, fighting, or shutting down, all of which hinder our relationships. Embrace the change by getting curious about what it means, what possibilities it carries, what you can learn about yourself and others.

The best way to teach your children to DIVE into curiosity is to practice it yourself. DIVE in and begin to get curious. You will discover great benefits for you and your children, like greater connection, deeper intimacy, less anxiety, and more joy. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Go ahead. Get curious and find out if these results really happen.

“Take 10” Before Answering Your Children

Sometimes it’s best to not give your children an immediate answer. I know they’ll complain. After all, they want an answer “now.” However, there are times to “take 10” (or 20 or 30 or even a whole day) before answering. Not all answers come easily or quickly. In fact, let me offer 4 times it’s definitely best to wait before answering.

  • Don’t give an immediate answer when you’re distracted or busy. You might give an answer to a question you haven’t even fully heard. You might give an answer you didn’t intend. Only answer when you can give your full attention and thought to your child and their question or request.
  • Don’t give an immediate answer when you are upset or feeling guilty. When you feel upset or guilty you might “give too much.” You might answer out of our guilt rather than wisdom and values. You might answer out of anger about something unrelated to your children rather than answering out of love for your children and concern for their well-being.
  • Don’t give an immediate answer when your children are whining or yelling. If you give an answer during that time you will likely answer out of agitation or, if you’re in public, fear of embarrassment. If you answer by giving in to their request to avoid embarrassment, you have just reinforced their behavior. You have taught them an effective way to get what they want. You’ve taught them how to manipulate your answer.  Better to wait.
  • Don’t give an immediate answer when you’re feeling tired or insecure about your parenting. Once again, this may lead us to give an answer that doesn’t align with your family values.

If it’s best to not offer an immediate answer at these times, what can we do? How can we prepare for these moments?

  1. Before a situation even arises, establish your family’s core values and boundaries. Talk about those values often. Once your core values are established, you can base your decisions and answers on those values and boundaries. Remember, these are your whole family’s values and boundaries.
  2. Establish a healthy support group. It takes a village to be a good parent. Gather a group of like-minded parents around you. Support one another. When you’re not sure about how to answer a question or request, use a “lifeline” by calling a friend in your support group. Talk it through with them.
  3. Tell your child you can’t answer right now but you can tell them an answer at a specific time in the near future.  Remember, you want to give an answer that aligns with the values and boundaries you have established. You may need time to think about that answer. You may want to talk with a friend and “throw around some ideas” about the best response. An important caveat though–get back to your child by the time you stated. They need to know they can trust you to follow through on your word.
  4. Talk with your child rather than give an immediate answer. Ask questions. Talk about their request and what it really means to them. Talk about your concerns as well as areas in which you see their growth. Tell them how you are proud of them. Offer an age-appropriate explanation for your response so they can understand how it fits in with your family’s values and boundaries. Talking with your child about their request and your answer helps them learn to think through the request on their own, an important skill as they mature.

Put these actions in place and remember, you can always “take 10” before answering your child. In fact, it may be best to take a day to “sleep on it” before answering to make sure you answer wisely and in accordance with your values.

No One Told Me

When my wife and I had children, no one told me how difficult it would be to let them go, especially as they left home. No one told me the emotional challenge inherent in allowing them to leave home and begin their independent, adult journey through life. The first person I heard talk about the struggle of letting go was Kevin Lehman. In fact, he may have been the only one I have ever heard talk about this. (You can view it here.) I have a friend with similar age children. He who compared the children leaving home to a death. I compared it to breaking off a long-term relationship, an engagement. I found that out by experience, but no one told me it would be so challenging, so difficult. It’s filled with mixed emotions—pride, sorrow, joy, longing…. And, as Kevin Lehman explains, it is a challenge for our children as well. No one told me that either.

Don’t get me wrong. It may prove challenging to let our children go, but it is also necessary and rewarding. Which brings me to a second thing that no one told me. I learned this lesson recently. My wife and I have had several friends and even some family members pass away over the last couple of years. Recently, a friend of mine passed away. When my daughters heard, they contacted us to offer support and comfort. They made themselves available to us. They offered support and a listening ear. They chose to be present in our lives during a time of need. No one told me that would happen. No one told me that one day after the children have “left home” they would return to offer support and comfort, to be a present help in our lives. Maybe I should have known…but no one told me.

Those two things go together, don’t they? Our children have to leave home to become independent adults. The transition of a child into adult life happens more smoothly for those whose parents have nurtured a positive, loving relationship with them. The security of that parent-child relationship emboldens a child to move into the world with a greater sense of confidence and agency. The positive, loving relationship nurtured throughout their childhood and teen years also “sticks with them.” It establishes a connection between parent and child that continues to grow and develop. It opens a child’s heart to their parents just as the parents’ heart has been open to their child from the time they were born (and probably even before).

I don’t know if anyone ever told you these two things facets of parenting or not. If not, read through this short blog again. Letting go is challenging…an exciting challenge filled with a whole cocktail of mixed emotions. It’s a moment of sorrow and longing as well as pride and joy. But it doesn’t mark the end of your relationship. It marks a new beginning. That new beginning will fill you with an even greater joy as you discover your children remaining present in your life by their choice and returning the love you have shared with them all their lives.

The Parent’s Key

I like what Alison Gopnik said in The Gardner and The Carpenter:

“The key to love in practice is doing things together, participating in the world in a way that acknowledges the strengths and weaknesses of both of you.”

Her book, and this quote, are about becoming a parent as a form of love. One of the best ways, if not the best way, to nurture love with your children is to do things together, not just child-centered things but all things–shopping trips, yard work, baking, playing, riding bikes, whatever daily tasks you do you can do with your children. Involving your children in your daily tasks provides the key that opens up doors of opportunity.

Behind the first door of opportunity, door number one, lies the opportunity for time together. Time together translates into greater intimacy. More time together means more opportunity to interact, converse, and learn about one another. Your child experiences the opportunity to witness your character and your values in a variety of settings, a variety of places, and with a variety of people. You get to witness your child interact with a variety of settings, places, and people as well. You learn about one another’s priorities as well as one another’s limitations and weaknesses. You also learn ways of managing those limitations. All of this leads to a deeper knowledge between parent and child. It leads to deeper trust and deeper intimacy.

Behind door number two we find learning life skills. Children watch us, imitate us, and learn. They learn life skills like cooking, cleaning, money management, how to use a fork and knife, how to approach store clerks and strangers, and…. Actually, they’re learning about anything you expose them to while you’re together. In fact, our children learn almost everything by observing, imitating, and participating with us. Who needs flash cards to learn new vocabulary words when family dinners encourage a growing vocabulary and teach conversational skills? Why limit our children to the math on flashcards when learning to grocery shop on a budget or measure ingredients for a cake can teach so much math? Allowing your child to do things with you allows them the opportunity to observe, imitate, and participate, which are three ingredients that contribute to amazing learning for you and your child. 

Behind door number three you will discover social skills. Once again, children learn by observing you engage in social interactions and imitating those actions. Not only will they learn by interacting with you, but they will have the opportunity to interact with adults, and children, people they know and people they do not know, people on the job and people passing by as well. All this contributes to amazing opportunities for social skills practice.

In the midst of all this, door number four becomes apparent. Behind door number four your children will enjoy the opportunity to learn and practice emotional management skills. They will observe, imitate, and participate in tolerating boredom, expressing frustration and anger, managing disappointment and sorrow, and sharing joy and happiness.

Fortunately, unlike the game show Let’s Make a Deal, you don’t have to pick a door when you “love your children in practice by doing things together.” All four doors will open to you and your child, allowing you to enjoy the prize behind every door and more. Know why? Because you have the master key for all four doors—the key of doing things together.

Some Parental Confessions

I remember having many doubts and questions while raising my children. I can remember thinking, “I have no idea what I’m doing” and, “This is too much. I’m overwhelmed.” On many occasions, I was exhausted, uncertain, overwhelmed. Have you ever felt that way? Have you made similar statements to yourself as a parent? Parenting can “take it out of us.”

So how do we get through those periods of doubt and confusion? We seek help. I don’t mean seeking a therapist (although that may prove helpful at times). I mean seeking out friends or family members. A healthy parent needs a support system, a village to provide support and answers to the many questions we encounter.

Supportive friends and family help us recognize the normalcy in the struggle of parenthood. I remember wondering (no, I remember worrying) about the normalcy of various behaviors my children engaged in while growing up. Every time, a friend whose children were much older than my children, would talk about times his children did the same things. It was a relief to learn my children’s behaviors were normal and I “wasn’t ruining them.” Supportive friends and family also taught me what types of activities and interactions with their children they found helpful. In addition, we could share our frustrations together, differentiate typical behavior from atypical behavior, behavior to worry about from typical behavior, and support one another in the journey of parenthood.

Supportive friends and family offer us time for self-care. We can turn to friends and family for periods of child-care that free us up to “take care of ourselves.” That may simply mean grocery shopping without an infant in arms or going on a date with our spouse. Knowing other couples with children may provide opportunities to share time watching children so each couple can go out as a couple. Or you might take turns with rides to school, practices, or activities, freeing one another up to take care of other things.

Supportive friends and family foster resilience and a sense of confidence. Having support strengthens us and empowers us to continue growing, even when we feel tired. They also can help assure we maintain a healthy balance in our parenting, pointing out ways we can improve in our parenting and ways in which we are doing well.

You can foster supportive friends and families in several ways.

  • Be the support you’re seeking. Offer to help a friend with their children, to take their children on an outing with your children. It can turn into an opportunity to do the same for one another. Encourage other parents you know.
  • Get involved in groups that include other families. That may include community groups, sports groups, music groups, dance groups, or MOPS to name a few. Church also provides an excellent source for family and parent support.
  • Meet your neighbors. I know it can prove difficult in today’s environment, but get to know your neighbors. Many neighbors become wonderful supports in helping raise children.

All parents need a village of support to empower and energize them in the task of parenthood. Who makes up your supportive village?

Naps Are For Kids, Right?

We encourage our babies and toddlers to take naps. But adults? No, naps are for kids. Or are they? I remember laying down with my children many times to get them to take a nap only to “doze off” myself. Is that bad? Researchers don’t think so. In fact, they suggest that naps may prove beneficial for adults as well as children. In one interview, the person being interviewed went so far as to report naps as virtuous.

What makes naps so good? We all get that “lull” in our attention and concentration in the afternoon. That represents a low point in our ultradian rhythms. It points to a need to let our body rest and recover from the natural work it has done and is doing during the day. When we take a short nap and allow our mind and body to recover, it sharpens our mind and helps us solve problems more effectively.  In fact, one study noted that those who took a short nap were better able to solve a math problem they struggled with prior to their nap. Naps also make us more productive; and they improve our mood.

There is a caveat though. The most productive naps are only 20-30 minutes long. These “short naps” allow us to rest and recover without suffering the sluggishness of trying to wake up from a deep sleep. Also, it is best to nap prior to 5pm so your nap does not interfere with your nighttime sleep schedule.

All this being said, a nap may be good for you and your family. It can help everyone stay in a better mood and so have greater patience with one another. It may help your family solve problems more easily, reduce conflict, or recover from conflict more quickly. And don’t forget that a nap can just make a person feel better. So why give all the good stuff to the kids? If you’re feeling overwhelmed, grumpy, or struggling to respond in a productive manner to the many things that arise in the day, take a nap. In fact, enjoy a family nap. It’s OK. It’s more than OK. It’s healthy for you and your family.  

The Key to Emotional Health in Adolescence

Adolescence is a time of challenge and opportunity, a time of growth for parent and child. At times you and your child may feel like pulling your hair out during their adolescent years. And, at other times, you may feel like pulling one another’s hair out. But there is a key that can help nurture health for parent and child during the adolescent years. It’s a key that the parent holds but both parent and teen benefit from it. Psychologists call this key “authoritative parenting.” Several studies have shown authoritative parenting beneficial for raising children. Among other things, studies suggest it promotes a positive self-concept and better self-control in children as well as better relationships between parents and their children. Why? Because it sets health, age-appropriate limits AND it offers warm relationships.

What makes a warm relationship between parent and child? In a warm relationship, parents show delight in their children. They are responsive to their children. Not only do they respond to their children on a consistent basis, but their responses match the children’s needs of the moment. Parents listen, observing their children’s behavior as well as hearing the message behind their words, and respond in a way that communicates understanding and affection. Warm parent-child relationships also involve sharing time together enjoying positive interactions.

In addition to warm relationships, authoritative parenting also involves healthy, age-appropriate limits. Children are not allowed to do whatever they want when they want. Instead, parents establish and enforce limits for their children’s safety and health. These limits help assure predictability and security for their children. Ironically, children more easily explore their world and their interests from the safety of well-established and lovingly enforced limits. Exploration helps them learn and grow. So, in effect, lovingly enforced, age-appropriate limits nurture our children’s ability to learn and grow.

Together, warm parenting combined with healthy, age-appropriate limits make up authoritative parenting, the type of parenting that promotes a healthy adolescence for both parent and adolescent. Know what I like about this? You can learn to practice authoritative parenting. You can practice warmth in your relationship and learn to lovingly enforce healthy limits. Here’s a few basics.

  • Listen intently to your children’s verbal and nonverbal communications. Even their behaviors are communicating something for you to “hear.”
  • Remain responsive to your children’s communications and needs.
  • Establish healthy, age-appropriate limits and lovingly enforce those limits.
  • Show consistency in your responsiveness to your children and in the enforcement of limits.
  • As our children mature, allow the limits to change. Let them become increasingly “in charge” of their own decisions and consequences.
  • Enjoy your maturing adolescent and your relationship with them.

Encourage Your Child’s Anger

If you want your children to achieve challenging goals in their lives, you may have to encourage their anger. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean letting them blow up or “rage” around the house. I mean accepting their anger and then teaching them how to manage that anger as a motivating factor in their lives. After all, anger, like all emotions, plays an important role in our lives and the lives of our children.

  • First, anger reveals our priorities and values. It also alerts us to important situations that require action. We really only get angry over things we value. Situations and things that don’t matter to us don’t arouse our emotions either. We only get angry or happy or sad about those things we value, things important to us. So, when your children express anger, consider what priority and value that anger is communicating. Help them identify the priority or value their anger reveals. Is it a value of respect? Safety? Fairness? Does it reveal the hurt of not being included? Help your child discover and understand the value underlying their anger.
  • Second, anger energizes us to respond and align the situation with our values and priorities. This energy can help motivate our children to pursue a goal or align a situation with their values. In fact, at least one study found anger improved a person’s ability to reach a goal while a “neutral “emotion did not. Anger increased effort. But, we have to channel the energy and motivation of anger toward our priority in a healthy way. Unfortunately, children often use the energy of anger without considering the value or priority they want to communicate. They strike out in anger because they feel disrespected. Or they strike out in anger when they feel excluded. In doing so, they miscommunicate. Rather than communicating a priority of respect, they arouse further disrespect or fear. Rather than communicating a desire for inclusion, they push the other people away.
  • So, after you help your child identify the value underlying their anger, you can brainstorm actions they can take to effectively communicate their values or achieve the goals related to their values.

Practicing these three steps with your children will teach them to accept their anger, understand the value behind the anger, and utilize its energy to achieve their goals. In this way, anger becomes an ally, a motivator, even a teacher rather than a hindrance.

They Know More Than You Think

Our children are geniuses. They know so much more than we think. In some sense, this is good. It helps them learn and grow. In other ways, not so good because they know much more about what is going on at home than we might imagine. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies revealed how much children between 3-years-old and 6-years-old know about their family’s relationships and conflicts. They were able to describe negative and positive aspects of their family’s relationships. They could give detailed descriptions about family dynamics—good and bad dynamics. They could explain the emotions of various family members by giving detailed descriptions of facial expressions, tone of voice, and behavior. In other words, children are watching AND learning.

Based on this finding, we have to ask ourselves: Are our interactions and conflict management styles teaching our children how to interact and manage emotions in a positive way? Are we giving seeing and learning healthy skills as they watch and learn from our behavior, facial expressions, tone of voice, and interactions? What will they learn about relationships from us? What will they carry into their families based on the lessons they learn by watching us? Be aware and make sure your children learn more positive lessons by watching you.

The authors of this study also found that conflict between a parent and their child often remained unresolved. As a result, the child turned to a sibling or a pet for comfort during tension with a parent. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my child to feel like a family pet offers more comfort than I do. So, resolve the conflict to keep the relationship open for comforting and support. You can resolve the conflict in a variety of ways, depending on the situation. For instance,

  • You can sit down and talk after everyone has calmed down. Talks about what happened and why it created a problem. Then discuss how to manage similar situations in the future in a more productive and healthy manner.
  • Apologize if and when you need to. Apologizing to our children when appropriate teaches them important lessons about responsibility, justice, and humility.
  • Reaffirm your love for your child. Make sure they know you love them even when you disagree with them, get upset with them, or even discipline them. Affirm your love verbally and nonverbally every day as often as you can.

Children are keenly aware of the family dynamics in our homes. They watch us to learn about marriage, relationships, conflict resolution, compromise, and many other life skills that they will take with them into their own marriages and families. Make sure the lessons they learn from you are the lessons you want them to know for life.

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