Tag Archive for parenting

The Life Cycle of a Label in Your Child

The labels our children acquire have a life cycle of their own…and that life cycle has a tremendous impact on their identity. Unfortunately, labels are often conceived without thought. They might be conceived in anger or in jest, but they are conceived, nonetheless. You’ve seen it happen. A parent tells their child to quit being “stupid” or accuses them of being “lazy…” and a label is conceived. Or an infant gets a nickname that sticks, and a chubby baby acquires the label “Chubby” that sticks even into adolescence.

As the child develops, the label develops as well…and gives birth to their own thoughts about themselves. The labels give birth to the DNA of their self-image. “Stupid” and “lazy” are no longer simple statements conceived in anger or frustration but an integral part of the child’s thoughts about themselves. The label conceived gives birth to a self-identity of “stupid” or “lazy.” “Chubby” matures into an enduring belief about “who I am,” even as the child physically grows into a healthy young adult. The label has grown. It has taken on a life of its own, a life that our children (and ourselves) struggle with as adults. The labels of “stupid” and “lazy” battle with the hardworking achievement of an intelligent adult for that person’s primary self-image.

Of course, not all labels are the same. Some might give birth to a more positive self-image. But labels conceived in anger or in jest end up giving birth to hurt and self-deprecating inner thoughts. I once knew a young man named Sterling. His family called him “Sterile” for short, never realizing how disempowering this nickname could be. However, one day while I was visiting a church with Sterling, an older man asked his name. He replied, “Sterling.” The man smiled and said, “Like silver. You are as precious as Sterling silver.” The young man’s face lit up with a smile like I had never seen on his face before. Perhaps a more encouraging nickname would have been Silver.

All of this begs the question: what labels do you conceive in your children and the children around you? How might those labels impact your child’s self-image as they grow into adulthood with that label embedded in their thoughts? Think carefully…and act wisely.

Parenting: A Christ-Like Vocation

I read an interesting quote about parenting that made me to stop and ponder.

“There is no other thing you do in life only that the person you do it for can leave you. When they leave, that is success; when they do something because they want to do it and not because you want them to do it, then you have done your job. You succeed when you make yourself irrelevant, when you lose yourself.” (Keith Gessen in Raising Raffi)

It’s true. Raising a child is one of the most rewarding opportunities a person can ever experience. It is also a challenge. It’s bittersweet; and it’s beautiful. Becoming a parent compels us to become a better person. In fact, becoming a parent may well prove one of the most influential ways of shaping us in godly, Christ-like character.

If you’ve gone to Sunday School, I’m sure you heard that a “person who seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will be saved.” Parents invest their time and energy into their children. Rather than invest solely in their own interests and pleasures, they invest in their children’s growth and enjoyment. In a sense, parents quit seeking to save their own life and start investing in their children’s lives. They focus on their children’s lives and, in so doing, find their own joy and happiness in watching their children become mature and responsible adults.

Parents serve their children with no expectation of being served in return. Sure, children contribute to the household in age determined ways. But parents encourage them to contribute to the household so they can mature and grow into responsible adults, not so they can serve their parents. In fact, most chores would likely go faster and more efficiently if a parent did them on their own rather than allow their 8-year-old to help. But we encourage the 8-year-old to help because we are in service to their development and maturation.  Parents serve their children by providing for their physical, emotional, and mental needs. It’s as if we came into parenthood to serve, not to be served.

Serving and investing in our children’s lives results in sacrifice. Not only do parents sacrifice time and energy, but they sacrifice a new set of clothes to get their children school clothes. They sacrifice the last piece of chicken so their child can have it. They sacrifice willingly and lovingly, out of a desire for their children’s best interest above their own. And they sacrifice without complaint. Many don’t even recognize their parents’ sacrifices for us until we are older and have a more mature perspective. But parents continue to sacrifice anyway.

Then, perhaps the greatest sacrifice of all, we let them go. They leave. They no longer need us. We have “made ourselves irrelevant.” As harsh as this sounds, isn’t it what Christ did when, “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant”?  He emptied Himself, made Himself of no reputation, became “irrelevant” according to worldly standards. Yet, it was through that giving up of Himself that He brought us into His loving family as children of God. Perhaps it’s because parents give themselves up for their children that their children become mature and are then able to truly return a deeper, truer love to their parent.  

Investing in another more than myself. Serving another’s needs more than my own needs. Sacrificing for the good of another. Sounds like a parent. Sounds like growing in godly character. Sounds like love. If you will pardon my paraphrase: parents “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard their children as more important than themselves; [they] do not merely look out for their own personal interests, but also for the interests of their children” (adapted from Paul, Philippians 2:3-4).

Secretly Exercise Your Child’s Patience This Summer

Do you wish your child had more patience? If you’re like me, you probably wish you had more patience too. We could all use a little more patience. Here’s the good news. You can increase your patience and help your child increase their patience at the same time… all while you’re having fun! It won’t even seem like you’re practicing those patience muscles. But you will. And did I say? It’s fun! Here are 6 activities that can help you and your child increase your patience this summer.

  • Plant a garden. It takes time for a seed to germinate, sprout, grow, blossom, produce fruit, and ripen. Nurturing and watching it go through this process promotes patience. So, plant a vegetable garden, flower garden, or herb garden. Plant a tree. Plant it and watch it grow.
  • Bake together. Baking also takes time and patience. You have to gather the ingredients, mix the ingredients, prepare the pan, bake your cake (bread, pie, or pastry), let it cool, and, best of all, eat it.  Depending on what you bake, you may have to add time for the dough to rise as well. All this provides practice in patience with a reward of a very delicious treat.
  • Play games. Many games promote patience. In board games or card games we practice patience while waiting our turn. Chess involves waiting even longer while your opponent considers options. Games like “Simon Says” promotes patience as well as listening. So play a game and practice those patience muscles.
  • Build a model. I don’t hear about children building models as much as I used to. But, you can imagine the patience needed to sort the pieces and carefully follow the instructions to put them together properly before painting the assembled model. When you’re done, show it off.
  • Complete a puzzle. My wife and children loved doing puzzles. (I didn’t have the patience, lol.)  Puzzles promote patience as you sort the pieces before looking for just the right piece to fill the empty space. You also get to enjoy spending time together as you complete it. Perhaps the one who shows the most patience can fit the final piece into place. 
  • Paint by numbers. You can get a simple paint by number or a more complex paint by number. Both will promote patience as you carefully follow the instructions, using the correct color to match the number and then waiting for one color to dry before using colors that border it. After patiently completing the project, however, you have a beautiful picture to display.

I love ideas that help promote patience in such simple, natural, and fun ways. They allow our children (and us) to learn without even knowing it. And, I have to say it again—it’s fun. So, practice patience and have fun at the same time this summer.

Tame This Natural Bias Before It Destroys Your Parenting

Sometimes we are our own worst enemy… even when it comes to innate abilities that protect us. For instance, we tend to pay attention to and learn from negative or threatening stimuli more than we do from positive or lovely stimuli. Psychologists call this our “negative bias” and note how it protects us. For instance, it’s more important to attend to the rattlesnake in the flower garden than your lovely daisies when you’re pulling weeds. The car speeding toward the crosswalk where you stand with your child elicits a more immediate and stronger reaction than the cute elderly couple walking their dog on the sidewalk.

In such instances, the “negative bias” is natural and protective. But it can destroy effective parenting when it dominates our parental radar. A parent’s “out-of-control negative bias” can lead to excessive criticism, overprotectiveness, and undue correction in our attempt to protect our children from every danger and mistake out there. In response, our children become discouraged and defeated by the constant negative focus.

Effective parents learn to tame the “beast of negative bias” by focusing on strengths as well as dangers. They focus on their children’s positive character, acknowledging and nurturing it every chance they get. “I appreciate the kindness you showed when….”  “You showed a lot of patience when you….”  “It was very courageous of you to….” When we notice and label specific actions and responses that flow out of our children’s strengths, we begin to develop our own trust in their ability (as well as their positive self-concept). This trust can help tame our “negative bias,” which leads to the next way of taming “negative bias.”

Effective parents also tame the “beast of negative bias” by learning to trust their children. We learn to trust our children’s abilities to take care of themselves by carefully observing them rather than constantly warning them. We learn to trust our children by allowing them to manage the consequences of their mistakes and so learn from those consequences rather than jumping in to save them. We learn to trust our children by allowing them to take risks and observing how they manage those risks, remaining present to help them if they request our help. (Read Do You Rob Your Teen of Victory for more.) Ironically, most parents are often amazed at how well their children manage a risk independently and the amazing way they learn from those consequences. Sometimes it’s hard to not intervene but doing nothing can prove the best course of action at times.

Effective parents tame the “beast of negative bias” by nurturing their children’s talents, providing them opportunities to gain experience. Whether their talent lies in athletics, music, acting, writing, landscaping, mechanics, or…well, the list goes on. Whatever their talent, providing them opportunities to grow in their knowledge and skills related to that talent helps us, as parents, see them in new light. It helps us see them mature and realize their growing competence and independence.

Effective parents tame the “beast of negative bias” and enjoy practicing a positive bias as they watch their children grow and mature. You and your child will be glad you took the time to tame the “beast of negative bias.”

A Surprising Factor in Your Child’s Academic Success

Prosocial skills—”the propensity to act kindly or generously toward peers and other people.”  Kindness and generosity. Don’t we all want our children to become kind, generous adults? In fact, we want them to practice kindness and generosity even as children. And for good reasons. Children who demonstrate more prosocial behaviors develop fewer emotional and behavioral problems than their less prosocial peers, especially in poorer neighborhoods and schools. Kindness and generosity “protect against risk of emotional problems in low socioeconomic neighborhoods.” But here is a surprise. A recent study suggests that a child’s kindness and generosity (their prosocial behavior) may actually improve their academic success.

For this study, researchers followed 1,175 children from 4-years-old through 7-years-old in Bradford, England. In general, the results suggested that children’s prosocial behavior positively impacts their early learning goals, phonic skills, and academic test performance. Significantly, prosocial behavior impacted each of these areas over and above the neighborhood and family socioeconomic status. However, there was another, rather interesting finding.

  • If a child came from a poorer neighborhood and exhibited less prosocial behavior, they also had lower levels of academic achievement. But this was not true in wealthier neighborhoods. In fact, in wealthier neighborhoods, children who exhibited less prosocial behavior still exhibited high levels of academic success.
  • Children who exhibited higher levels of prosocial behavior, however, did not differ in levels of academic success, whether they came from poorer neighborhoods or wealthier neighborhoods. This suggests that kindness and generosity (prosocial behaviors) may protect against the impact of living in neighborhoods with limited resources or educational resources and opportunities.

What does this have to do with families? The family is a training ground for kindness and generosity, for teaching prosocial skills. Your family can become a training ground for promoting prosocial skills in your children. Here are

  1. Parents can model kindness and generosity. Make kindness a hallmark of your family. Intentionally show kindness to your spouse and children. Offer to help your spouse and children, even without being asked. Also, let your children witness your kindness and generosity toward others. Speak kindly of others. Act kindly toward others. Help others. Model kindness and generosity. At least one study even suggests that a father’s prosocial behavior, specifically, increases their children’s prosocial behavior.
  2. Model kindness toward your children. Be responsive and empathetic toward your children. Children are much more likely to treat other people in ways that their parents of treated them.
  3. Provide opportunities for practicing kindness and generosity. Let your children be involved in activities of kindness as varied as setting the table for a family meal, helping to buy presents for friends or family, making cookies for a shut-in, or writing thank-you cards for gifts received…to name a few. The days are chock-full of opportunities to practice kindness and generosity. Coach your children in taking advantage of those opportunities.
  4. Notice and acknowledge when your children engage in acts of kindness. “Thank you for being helpful.” “That was kind of you to share.” Noticing and acknowledging kind behaviors in your children will increase the likelihood they will engage in more of it. After all, attention is one of the greatest parenting discipline tools we have.
  5. Take note of opportunities to talk about kindness. Acknowledge acts of kindness you see in others. Point out acts of kindness and generosity in the news. (Here is a great example from Good News Network about the exceptional kindness of a 13-year-old.) Utilize stories and movies to discuss examples of kindness in the story. You can also discuss missed opportunities for showing kindness and how a kindness might have changed the storyline. These provide excellent opportunities to teach about kindness and keep kindness in the “forefront of their mind.” 

Practicing these 5 ideas for promoting kindness in your children will not only encourage them to practice kindness, but they will also buffer your children against “emotional problems” and promote better academic success. Kinder children, fewer emotional difficulties, and greater academic success…sounds like a great outcome to me.

A Parenting Practice that Increases Children’s IQ

This parenting practice can increase your child’s IQ. I know it sounds too good to be true, but research supports the claim. A study involving over 1,600 children, followed from birth to their teenage years and raised in environments in which they faced a great deal of adversity, showed that this parenting practice contributed to raising children’s IQs by six points even in the midst of adversity. What is this miraculous practice? Nurturing and responsive parenting.

Nurturing parents create an environment that counteracts the disadvantages of early adversities and promote learning and growth.  How can a parent practice nurturing, responsive parenting? Let me share some ideas.

  • Get involved in your children’s lives. First and foremost, be available to your children and present in their daily lives. Children love to have their parents involved in their lives. A parent’s loving involvement in their child’s life creates a sense of security that frees their minds to learn and grow in healthy ways.
  • Become a student of your child. Learn about their needs and their interests. Just as important, learn how they act and respond when they’re hungry or sleepy, upset or simply distracted. The more you know about your child and their nuanced responses to life, the more you can respond to their needs in a nurturing, sensitive way.
  • Read to your child. Reading to your child has so many amazing benefits including increasing their empathy, building their imagination, providing a time for bonding, and increasing their problem-solving among many other benefits. Reading to your child also creates a nurturing environment. Pull out those books and start reading.
  • Play games with your children. You can play board games, card games, or outdoor games. Games teach many skills, like turn taking, winning and losing gracefully, negotiation skills, compromise, patience, and more. Children love to learn, and games will help them learn. You can turn daily chores like shopping or cooking into a game to teach your children math. You can play games with letters like the alphabet game while driving. Your child will be learning and not even know they are doing it.
  • Sing songs together. Singing is a great way to bond and build a sense of security in your child’s relationship to you. In addition, we learn many things through singing. We can learn how to cooperate and “harmonize” with one another (rather than sing over one another), listen and respond (like in a call and response song), basic information (the ABC’s song), how our laws get developed (Schoolhouse Rock – I’m Just a Bill ), the basics of grammar (Schoolhouse Rock, conjunction junction) and many more things. Barney, Big Bird, and Mr. Rogers knew how to make the best of music to nurture healthy children. You can too.

That’s five ways to become a nurturing parent. Although they’re surprisingly easy to implement, they have one thing in common. Each one involves investing your time in your child’s life and activities. But you’ll discover this investment is relatively simple and great fun. You will also be pleasantly surprised at the amazing benefits you will reap from this investment: a stronger bond with your children and the nurturing of their higher IQ.

Your Child’s Learning Curve on Criticism

Children learn through naturally occurring rewards and losses, natural consequences. Behaviors that bring a natural reward tend to increase while behaviors that result in a loss decrease. In other words, children learn from experience. Parents, however, can interfere with this learning in a subtle way, often without even knowing it. Fortunately, you can avoid interfering with your child’s ability to learn from experience by limiting this one behavior—criticism.

A study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology suggests that parental criticism interferes with a child’s ability to learn through the natural rewards and losses they experience every day. To say in more directly, criticizing your child will hinder their ability to learn from natural consequences.

But not all “criticism” is the same. For instance, “constructive criticism” instructs. A child who asks a parent to check their essay or offer advice on improving their tennis swing actually invites “constructive criticism” because they know it will help them grow. When given well, “constructive criticism” is given in kindness and is couched in concern for and interest in your child. “Constructive criticism” will not interfere with your children’s ability to learn. Instead, it will enhance your children’s ability to learn.

In a similar manner, “corrective criticism” can help your children learn and grow by addressing misbehavior. At its best, “corrective criticism” addresses the behavior, not the child. As a result, it does not make a judgment about the child or their character. “Corrective criticism” also places the behavior to change within the larger, more positive perspective of your child by acknowledging that the misbehavior does not define your child. It implies or even explicitly states that the misbehavior is not a reflection of their true self and their true values.

The damaging criticism referred to in this research is “corrosive criticism.” “Corrosive criticism” is often given in anger. It often demeans the child. It may involve sarcasm, humiliation, or shaming. “Corrosive criticism” hurts. Our children may incorporate the words of such criticism into their belief system and begin to feel inferior and inadequate. “Corrosive criticism” fills our children’s minds with self-contempt and guilt. It weighs on their mind and makes them doubt themselves and their interpretation of the world around them. It interferes with their ability to learn from natural consequences. (The three types of criticism taken from The Use and Abuse of Parental Criticism with Adolescents | Psychology Today.)

If you want your children to learn to the best of their ability from the natural consequences of daily living, avoid “corrosive criticism.” Do not use sarcasm, put-downs, or shaming to discipline or punish. Avoid all name-calling. Instead, learn to discipline in love with the goal of encouraging, instructing, and lifting your children up. As you do, they will learn from your healthy discipline and from the natural consequences of daily life. That’s a “double whammy” of growing maturity.

Mom’s Village & Your Child’s Cognitive Abilities

Several studies published in 2021 (reviewed in Small measures can be a big help for children of mothers with depression — ScienceDaily.) suggest the importance of a mother’s support in raising children. Specifically, these studies looked at 120 families with 9- to 10-month-old infants in Sweden and Bhutan and 100 refugee families in Turkey with children between 6- and 18-years-old. The common finding for the families in all three countries was that children’s attentiveness, social understanding, and ability to make decisions fell behind when their mothered suffered from mental health struggles like depression. That’s the bad news.

But there is good news. When a mother receives support from her partner or if she had a large family or a large social network that “rallied round and supported” her, the child’s development returned to the developmental norm. In other words, a mother’s strong, supportive “village” helps her become the best mother she can be and keeps her child on track developmentally.

Where does this strong, supportive “village” come from?

  • A supportive spouse who invests in the life of the mother and his family is part of a strong supportive village.
  • A healthy extended family is another crucial aspect of the supporting village. Extended family willing to support, assist, and help while maintaining healthy boundaries is priceless for any parent raising a child
  • Social groups like those found in religious life or an active community life rounds out a supportive village for mothers. These groups allow for regular times of meeting with other supportive people in a common phase of life or who share common interests. They allow for the development of relationships that support us in our life transitions, struggles, and celebrations. (For more ideas on building a village for your family see It Takes a Village…Yeah, But How?)

If we want strong, healthy families to support our children’s attentiveness, social understanding, and ability to make wise decisions, we need to build a village for every mother, parent, and family. If you’re a family, you can begin by reaching out to build that village today. If you are part of an extended family, strengthen your relationship with your family. If you are a church or other religious organization, intentionally work to create a supportive community for families within your community. Our families, our children…our future…depends on it.

What Spit Teaches Toddlers About a Safe Home

One of the most important skills a baby or toddler must learn is how social relationships work—who is reliable, who helps who, who can be trusted. A study from MIT identified a signal babies and toddlers use to determine if two people have a strong relationship and a commitment to help and support one another. The signal? Sharing saliva (yep…spit). They seem to observe shared saliva through activities like kissing, sharing food, or drinking from a common glass.

In this study researchers observed toddlers (16.5- to 18.5-months-old) and babies (8.5- to 10-months-old) respond to interactions between puppets and people in two different experiments. In the first experiment, the puppet shared an orange with one person and played catch (tossed a ball back and forth) with a second person. The crux of the experiment came afterward when the puppet “experienced distress.” Which person would the observing toddler look to in expectation of that person helping the distressed puppet? You guessed it. The one who shared food (an orange) with the puppet.

In the second experiment, a person placed her finger in her mouth and then into the mouth of the puppet (I know…gross). With a second puppet, the person touched her forehead and then touched the puppet’s forehead. Guess which puppet the child expected to help the person when she became distressed. The one who shared saliva by putting a finger in her mouth and the puppet’s mouth (still gross). In other words, babies and toddler seem to assume that people who share saliva by sharing food, sharing cups, kissing, or, apparently, sucking a common finger will come to one another’s assistance during times of stress. (See a video talking about the study here.)

So what? Good question. Babies and toddler thrive when they reside in an environment which they perceive as safe, an environment in which people have strong relationships and a mutual desire to help one another. Apparently, a toddler sees this sign of safety by observing the sharing of saliva among family members. Of course, that does NOT mean you have to start spitting around the house to make your child feel safe. Instead, you can help your toddler experience your home as a safe, trusting environment with some simple, innocent actions in which you might share saliva (I know it’s gross sounding but…). For instance,

  • Let them see you and your spouse share a simple kiss when one of you leaves the house and again when you reunite. (This will also strengthen your marriage.) A good night kiss for your spouse and your toddler will communicate a trusting relationship with both.
  • Sharing simple foods like orange pieces or ice cream with family members will communicate a strong relationship to your toddler as well. And a strong relationship among family members translates into an increased sense of safety. Plus, sharing will increase overall family trust.
  • Lick the bowl together after making cookies or icing. Your baby may even lick the treat right off your own finger…which you probably used to put icing in your mouth as well. (I know, it’s gross, but we’ve all done it…and it actually increases your toddler’s sense of safety and trust!)

Overall, sharing food, drinks, and kisses does more than potentially share saliva, doesn’t it? It represents a trust in the person with whom you share. Your toddler will pick up on that trust…and that will increase their sense of safety in your home. I have to say it (gross as it is): Give your child a sense of security in your home, share some saliva.

Raising Children Who Love

I ran across this wonderful poem by Nicolette Sowder. I wanted to share it with you.

May we raise children who love the unloved things–dandelion, the worms and spiderlings. Children who sense the rose needs the thorn

& run into rainswept days the same way they turn towards the sun…

And when they’re grown & someone has to speak for those who have no voice

may they draw upon that wilder bond, those days of tending tender things

It’s a beautiful wish for all families and children, a hope for our children and our world. I pray you will “raise children who love the unloved.” It begins with you loving them and exploring, with them the small, wild aspects of the world that others take for granted. For one day we may find ourselves in the category of the “unloved things” who desire our children’s love. (PS-Please see link for the proper layout of the poem. I couldn’t get the layout to transfer to this blog.)

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