Tag Archive for parenting

Are You a Parent or a Martyr?

Are you a martyr parent? Martyr parents love their children. They want their children to succeed. But they also harbor fears. They fear their child will feel bad when they don’t succeed. They fear their child will misbehave when frustrated by a task or limit. They fear their child’s self-esteem will falter if they don’t succeed easily and quickly. They fear feeling their own pain when they witness their child’s discomfort. (Why do I have to do everything?)

All these fears make them anxious every time their child struggles, becomes frustrated, or gets upset with a limit. As a result, martyr parents do whatever they can to alleviate their child’s frustration, stress, and anger.

Rather than let their child struggle with a homework assignment or coach them in asking their teacher for help, they do the homework for them. Rather than helping their child realize they can’t do every activity they would like, the martyr parent sacrifices their time and sanity to rush them from activity to activity. Martyr parents argue with teachers to reduce the homework that stresses their child. They give up their finances to get them everything they desire rather than risk their child’s tantrum over a strong limit or a firm “no.” (Learn to give A More Powerful No for Effective Parenting.)

In the process their child never develops the coping skills needed to deal with life. They don’t learn that their choices have consequences. They don’t learn how to prioritize and decide which activities they will pursue and which they will sacrifice due to time and financial constraints. They don’t learn problem-solving skills.

Instead, they witness their parents advocating for lower expectations around homework and chores. They witness parents saving them from stressful decisions or work struggles. They listen to their parents complain about time and finances as they rush from one activity to another. The implicit message they hear is, “You can’t do this on your own. You’re not capable. You’re incompetent. But everyone will sacrifice everything to make life easier for you.” Worse, they begin to believe that message and so avoid the difficult task. They let their parent do the work. Their growth is limited and their self-confidence struggles. (Sometimes it’s best for Good Parents to Do Nothing.)

What can a parent do to break out of the role of a martyr parent?

  • Realize that doing everything for your child is hurting them and you. They will become more competent and confident as you step back and quit doing everything for them…and Give Your Child the Gift of Confidence instead.
  • Think of one area  in which you are willing to step back and let your child engage in the struggle or face the consequences. Schoolwork is often a great place to start.
  • Take on the role of coach and teacher rather than fixer. Coach your child in understanding their options and let them problem-solve. Teach them the limits and the reason for the limits. Then teach them that choices have consequences by holding them accountable to the limits. Let them face the consequences of poor grades due to incomplete homework or loss of activity due to not doing a chore. Teach them that choices have consequences.
  • Decide how much time, energy, and finances you can invest in your children’s activities. Set a reasonable limit on activities based on those resources. That may mean limiting your child to one or two extracurricular activities at any one time. Then coach your child in thinking through their schedule and helping them prioritize what they like the most. Let them decide what they will continue or stop based on the limited resources available. (Managing Your Child’s Schedule…or Seeking Balance in the Devil’s Playground.)
  • Let your children stumble. You may see this as letting them fail. It’s ok. They don’t have to succeed at everything. They can mess up. They can have a bad day. They can be ordinary in some activity or skill…AND still be healthy, happy people. In fact, teach your children that failure is information, an opportunity to learn what does not work. Teach them to use the information gained through failure to “do better next time.” Teach your child to love mistakes.

These 5 steps will free you from the stress of being a martyr parent and allow your child to grow more competent, confident, and self-assured.

Powerful Combinations of 3 Little Letters for Parents

When it comes to parenting, some of the most powerful interventions appear small and insignificant. For instance, the simple, small act of  saying “thank you” to our children on a consistent basis has a powerful impact on their self-image and their behavior. Another small but powerful intervention involves the arrangement of three little letters combined into a single word.

Consider the power of three little letters arranged to spell the word “AND.” “AND” helps a child learn they can be angry AND remain polite. They can understand that they don’t enjoy doing chores AND they can still do them, even getting them done well. Or, more importantly, they can come to appreciate that you, their parent, discipline them AND you love them more than words can say. You can even be upset with them AND remain present, available, and consistent.

“AND” is good for our parenting philosophy as well. It informs us that we have a great child AND they misbehave at times, even making mistakes that require correction. We can feel bad disciplining our child AND know we discipline them because we love them and want the best for them.  We can hurt for our child when they experience the consequences of poor choices AND let them experience those consequences and learn from them.

We find another powerful combination of three little letters in the word “YET.” “Yet” carries the power of hope and the potential for change. It communicates faith in our child’s ability to learn and grow. Think about it. I can’t ride a bike…YET. I can’t stand up in front of my classmates to give a speech…YET. I can’t cook…YET. I can’t drive a car…YET. “YET” transforms each of these temporary limitations into a hope, an anticipation of future success.

“YET” does the same for parents. I can’t get my children into a good bedtime routine…YET.  I can’t stay calm when my children scream…YET. I can’t stand another week of on-line school…YET.  Each “YET” reveals an expectation that I can learn and grow as a parent. Each “YET” communicates that I am not the parent I want to be…YET, but here is still hope. I can learn and grow. I can become a better parent…YET.

Three little letters combined into a single word with the power to transform, communicate acceptance, offer hope, and anticipate growth. Use them wisely.

Gifts, Experiences, & Your Child’s Happiness

We all know it’s true…so why do we do it? We know we can’t by our children’s happiness with material goods & gifts, but we try. Our children look upset and we buy them something to “lift their spirits.” We feel guilty because they seem so angry and disappointed after we discipline them, so we assuage our guilt and their anger with a gift. We hope it will make them happy. But a recent study demonstrates that giving gifts does not increase our children’s happiness. Well, sort of….

Specifically, this study demonstrated that children over 12-years-old derive more happiness from experiences than from material things. In other words, our children over 12-years-old are going to experience more happiness if we do something fun with them than if we give them a gift.

Children between the ages of 3- and 12-years-old, on the other hand, did derive more happiness from material things than experiences. But there is a caveat. This age group still loves experiences (just consider the joy of Chuckie Cheese, amusement parks, and trampoline parks). Developmentally, however, they need a physical reminder to jump start their remembrance of the experience and so experience the happiness it gave them. In other words, experiences provide an enduring happiness for children between 3- and 12-years-old as well…IF they have a picture or a small token to remind them of the experience. For children over 12-years-old, these reminders are not necessary. They simply find more joy in the experience than in the possession (see The ESSENCE of Adolescence & Love Your Teen’s Risky Behavior for More).

All this being said, our children will find greater happiness when they enjoy experiences with us. While you enjoy the experience, take a picture or two. Buy a souvenir. Talk about the experience and replay the happiness often (Learn How to Give Your Children the Memories of a Lifetime). Do this and children of all ages (0 to 99-years-old) will experience greater happiness.

Do Your Kids This Favor

I know. It sounds obvious. But children thrive when their parents have a loving relationship. It makes sense. For the couple, research shows sharing life with a long-term loving partner has many benefits, like a longer lifespan, less incidences of heart disease, greater financial well-being, and greater life satisfaction. All of this benefits the children living with happily married parents as well. Even more, children living with happily married parents experience benefits beyond parents that live longer, healthier, and wealthier!

In fact, kids thrive when their parents are in love. A study completed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2009 suggests that the quality of the parents’ marriage contributed as much to their children’s future mental and physical health as the children’s relationship with the either individual parent. Other studies have shown that children who live with parents who love each other stay in school longer and exhibit fewer challenging behaviors. Living with happily married parents simply creates an environment more conducive to happiness than parents who argue, fight, and threaten. Happily married parents provide children with a sense of security. In other words, your healthy marriage is important to your children’s physical and mental health.

So, how do you keep your marriage strong and loving? One way to keep your marriage strong is to spend time together. Time spent together and attention are the currencies of strong relationships, even in marriage. Here are some hints to spend time together.

  • Go for a walk together.
  • Schedule a time to talk everyday over coffee.
  • Try a new activity together.
  • Put a movie on, snuggle up on the couch, and watch it together. You can even use the movie as a starting point to talk about your Love Story.
  • Eat one meal a day together.
  • Practice Gottman’s “Magic Five Hours.”
  • Find a babysitter and have a date night. If you can’t afford a babysitter maybe you can make a deal with a family friend. You can watch their children one night and they can watch your children another day.
  • Have a picnic in the back yard. Stay out late enough to enjoy the stars.
  • Go to the park. 

Spending time with your spouse is a gift you give to your spouse, your children, and yourself. It strengthens your marriage and creates a happier home in which your children can thrive. What are your favorite ways to spend time with your spouse?

What Values Do You Prioritize in Your Family?

The conflict and chaos in the world today have brought priorities and values into the limelight. Whether you agree with the values and priorities portrayed by various groups and leaders or not, we are all forced to stop and reflect. What priorities do I want to pass on to my children? What values do I want them to learn? How do I model those priorities and values in my daily life? And how do I teach them to my children? Those are tough questions that require reflection and thought. Let me share some of the priorities and values I deem important for family. Wait…on second thought, my daughters are young adults now. Let me ask them what priorities and values they learned from my wife and me. Perhaps their answers will shed light on our practical values rather than my “philosophical ideals.” So, I asked them, “What priorities and values did you learn from us?” Their response?

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. What priorities and values would you add to the list? What priorities and values do you want your children to learn from you? How do you model them for your children to see?

Helping Your Child Become Likeable: A Barrel of Fun

Children love to have fun…and having fun is no laughing matter. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Personality (2020) suggests that fun is one of three traits (prosocial behavior, leadership, and fun) shown to predict changes in a child’s “likeability and popularity” between the ages of nine and twelve years. This study, completed in Florida and Colombia, focused on fun. By letting peers nominate who was “likeable” and what made them likable, they discovered that children perceived by others as fun experienced an increase in the number of classmates who liked them over a two-month period. The perception of fun remained a key factor of “likeability” even after controlling for the influence of prosocial behavior, leadership, physical attractiveness, fairness, athletic ability, disruptiveness, and aggression. In other words, fun influenced likability.

Perhaps that’s not too surprising. After all, who doesn’t enjoy being around someone who is fun? But maybe we can learn something important for our families. Instilling a sense of fun into our family life may help our children learn to be fun. We often focus on teaching our children academics, sports, and manners. We teach them to listen and behave appropriately. Sometimes we become so “serious” about their academics, sports, music, and manners that we forget to teach them to have fun. And being fun is no laughing matter. How can we teach our children to have fun?

  • Model having fun. Let them see you engaging in activities and having fun. Even if you engage in a competitive sport, let them see how fun it is.
  • Laugh. Laugh at yourself. Laugh at a joke. Laugh at a funny show on TV. Laugh with your children and laugh as a family. Enjoy the moment and laugh. Teach your family to laugh because Laughter is No Laughing Matter for Families.
  • Encourage your children to do their best in their chosen activity. However, never let them lose sight of fun in that activity as well. Those who have fun are the same ones who do their best. Teach them to enjoy playing their sport or their instrument. Teach them to have fun in the activities they choose.
  • Encourage creativity. Whatever creative activities you enjoy—music, storytelling, art, photography, dance—whatever mode you may choose, enjoy creativity. (Discover Your Inner Musician is one way to encourage creativity.)
  • Play games together and make them fun. You can play anything from “Salad Bowl” to badminton. It doesn’t matter what you play. Just play and have fun. After all, it’s all fun and games…until it’s something more.
  • Tell a joke or two…or three or more. Make funny stories and jokes part of your family heritage. (My favorite joke, of course, is The Infamous Dad Joke.)

I’m sure there are more ways to teach your children to have fun. What are ways you encourage your children and your family to have fun? Don’t hold back. Share them below so we can all join in the fun and watch our children reap the benefits of learning to be fun.

The Two Become One

Parents operate best as a couple rather than two individuals. In fact, researchers from Nanyan Technological University (Presence of spouse alters how parents’ brains react to children stimuli) found that husbands and wives who are in the same location show greater brain synchrony in response to their children crying or laughing. In other words, when their children cry or laugh the two parents become one as far as brain activity goes.

Interestingly, the synching of brain activity did not occur between random couples, only with the other parent of the children.

It did not occur in response to static noise either. Only in response to their children’s emotional expression.

And, it only happened when the parents were physically present with one another—in the same room at the same time.

What does all this mean? It makes me think of a couple of things.

  • When couples raise their children together, they become more united. Their brains synch, especially in their “attentional and cognitive control mechanisms.” In other words, they become more attentive together and they begin to “mesh” how they respond to their children. Similarity in the brain translates to greater similarity in parenting. This will help them parent more effectively and lovingly as a “united front.”
  • As parents’ brain sync up, they will also grow more intimate with one another, more united in their love. They will gain understanding of one another as they work together on the common goals of raising healthy children. Seeing their parents’ love grow will also strengthen a child’s sense of security. Greater security translates to greater confidence and less misbehavior.     
  • As parents respond to their children together, they will experience greater success and growing confidence in their parenting. Who doesn’t want to feel confident in their parenting?

There may be more benefits for this growing synchrony between parents’ brains as they parent. What benefits can you think of? I just found it interesting that when two people who have developed their own lives work together to raise a child, the two become one…literally.

What Your Child, My Child… Every Child Needs!

Schools continue to struggle to determine exactly how to start this school year. Parents and school districts struggle to determine how to balance safety, economic needs, and educational needs during this time. Sports remain an issue of debate. Will school sports’ teams compete or wait until the pandemic is resolved to enjoy competition? While all these decisions remain unresolved, life has become unpredictable for our families and our children. A lack of predictability will create a sense of insecurity in our children; and, insecurity contributes to negative behaviors and even health issues in our children’s lives. So, we need to find ways to help our children feel safe and secure even during the unpredictable nature of our world right now. How can parents do this? Here are 5 things you can do every day to get you started.

  1. Listen. Give your children the opportunity to be heard. Get curious about their emotions, challenges, grievances, and fears. Strive to understand what lies under their misbehaviors (Read Misbehavior: A Call for Love? to learn more) rather than lecture and reprimand. As we listen and understand, our children will feel more secure. They will become calmer and more able to problem-solve as well.
  2. Establish daily rituals. Rituals help to build daily predictability that will contribute to our children’s sense of security. They also provide opportunities to talk and build deeper, more intimate relationships (Is Your Family Like a Scene from RV? Try Rituals).  Rituals don’t have to be complicated. You can build them into your daily life. For instance, rituals might include eating a meal together, reading together at bedtime, establishing a 20-minute conversation time each day, having a puzzle you work on each day.
  3. Invest in your relationship with your children’s other parent. A strong, healthy marriage contributes to a child’s sense of security. Let your children bear witness to your love for one another.
  4. Spend time with your children. Children spell love “T.I.M.E.” Time is the currency of love and security for your children. When they know you will put down your cell phone, postpone a job for a moment to talk, or make time to engage with them, your children learn you value them and care enough to keep them safe. Make time for your children. (How to Spend Quality Time with Your Children.)
  5. Share healthy physical affection. Give a hug. Put your arm around your children. Wrestle. Healthy physical affection increases our sense of connection and an increased sense of connection makes us feel secure. Give your children a hug! (Six Reasons to Hug Your Family.)

I’m sure there are more ways to help your children feel secure during this time of unpredictability. But, these five will give a great start. What ways would you add?

It’s All Fun & Games Until… It’s Something More

Teaching our children to be helpful and generous is all fun and games…at least in part. That is what I learned from a study published in November 2014. Actually, it was a series of four studies. The first study involved 1- and 2-year-olds assigned to one of two groups. In the first group, a researcher engaged a child in reciprocal play such as rolling a ball back and forth, pushing buttons on a musical toy together, or handing large rings to one another. In the second group, the researcher engaged in parallel paly with the child. Specifically, the researcher played with one set of toys while the child played with another set of toys.  After six minutes, the researcher acted as though they needed help reaching an object. Those who had engaged in reciprocal play helped the researcher get the object significantly more often than those who had engaged in parallel play.

The second study involved assigning children to the same two groups as the first study. It also added a third group in which the researcher merely sat nearby and talked to the child while he played. This time, the researcher left the room and a second researcher, who did not know which child was in which group, came into the room and exhibited a need for help. Once again, those who had engaged in reciprocal play helped significantly more often, even though the person they helped was unknown to them, a stranger.

The third study involved 3- and 4-year-olds in the same two groups as the first study: a reciprocal play group and a parallel play group. As in the second study, the researcher left the room and an assistant carried out the rest of the study. This time, rather than asking for help, the researcher offered the child 6 opportunities to give stickers to him- or herself or to the absent experimenter through the assistant. Guess what. Those engaged in reciprocal play were significantly more generous.

Finally, in a fourth study involving 4-year-olds the researcher asked two assistants to play with the child while he left the room to complete a task. One assistant engaged the child in reciprocal play for one minute. The other engaged in parallel play with the child for a minute. Then the experimenter returned. He showed the children a picture of the two assistants and asked them to point to the one they thought would give them a gift, help them open a door, or share a toy with them. The children consistently pointed to the one who engaged in reciprocal play with them.

These studies suggest that engaging our children in interactive play—play that involves sharing, taking turns, working together—nurtures their willingness to show kindness to others, even those they do not know but trust. It also increased their tendency to act generously toward others. Generous and kind children…triggered by our own interactive play with them. Simply playing a different game next to them did not promote kindness or generosity. Neither did sitting next to them and talking while they played. Getting involved in their play, interacting with them—tossing a ball back and forth, sharing play objects (dolls), or working on a project together (Legos)—promoted kindness and generosity. In other words, teaching our children to be generous and kind is all fun and games. So, be generous enough to kindly give your children the time to interact with them in play…and they will grow in kindness and generosity as well.

Early to Bed for Children Reduces…What?

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

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

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

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

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