Tag Archive for parenting

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.)

Six Common Parenting Mistakes

Parenting is both one of the greatest joys of life and one of the most difficult tasks of life. In spite of the many parenting help books, your child does not come with an instruction manual. We know generalities and principles to apply, but every child is unique. Every child demands something just a little bit different than the others. If you have more than one child, you know this to be true. Still, we know some principles that apply across the board. And we know some parenting actions that just don’t work well. In fact, here are six common parenting mistakes you can avoid.

  1. Making comparisons. Comparing our children to their siblings or another child invalidates our children’s uniqueness. It makes them doubt their own worth. Instead of comparing, celebrate their unique personality and strengths.
  2. Invalidating feelings. We all hate to see our child emotionally or physically hurt. For many, it actually hurts to see their child in pain. We quickly rush in and try to make them feel better by saying, “You’re okay.” Actually, they wouldn’t be crying or upset if they were okay. They are hurt. Telling them they’re ok may actually make them feel worse. The more effective approach is to acknowledge their emotions. Give them a hug and label what they might be feeling. Here is a great way to make your children’s emotions your friend and ally.
  3. Global praise. Telling a child “You’re really good at that” or “Great job” or “Super” may actually backfire. It can contribute to the creation of what Carol Dweck calls a “fixed mindset” rather than a “growth mindset.” Children with “fixed mindset” give up more easily and may even avoid challenges. Instead, offer a specific praise by acknowledging an aspect of their activity like and why you like it. “That was a great throw to first base.” “I really like your choice of colors in that picture, especially the yellow.” Follow it up with curiosity. “How did you keep you balance throwing that ball?” “What led to you choose those colors?” And acknowledge the effort that contributed to their work. “Your hard work is paying off. You’re catching more hard-hit balls.” These comments will contribute to a “growth mindset.”
  4. Turning to your child with your problems. Too often I hear a parent talk to their child about problems at work, frustrations with housework, or anger at a spouse. Your problems are not your child’s problems. They are too young and too emotionally immature to manage your problems. Instead, take your concerns up with your spouse, your boss, or a peer. Let your child enjoy their childhood. Resolve your marital issues with your spouse (and a therapist if necessary) so your child can enjoy the benefits of happily married parents.
  5. Name-calling. Of course, avoid all name-calling. Avoid words like “stupid,” “lazy,” “fat,” or any other label. We need to also avoid more subtle name-calling like calling your child “spoiled” or “just like your father.” Even calling your child names in jest can have a negative effect. Rather than name-calling, remember you are the adult—wiser, stronger, and more mature. Don’t resort to childish name-calling. Be the adult and talk to your child.
  6. Jumping in to solve their problems. Our children thrive when we let them experience the consequences of their choices; when we give them the opportunity to solve their own problems rather than jumping in to fix it for them. So, before you jump in to “help them out,” ask yourself whose problem you are fixing. If it is their problem, give them the opportunity to fix it. You can stand in their corner but let them win the match.

Avoid these six parenting mistakes. Your child will be glad you did.

The Best Response to Your Child’s Ingratitude

I’ve heard many parents express frustration over their child’s lack of gratitude. Maybe you have done it yourself. It seems even grateful children go through times in which they become ungrateful, demanding, and even presumption. They stop expressing thanks and expect to receive anything they want from their parents. Or, they expect their parent to do anything they want for them…as if we, their parents, were put on this earth to serve their every whim. They express frustration or anger because they don’t get something they want, even though we just spent an afternoon doing nice things for them. Or maybe they bemoan that the other kids “have it better” because their “parents understand.” You’ve probably encountered a time like this. Most of us have experienced our children doing at least one of these things. I know I have. When it happens, we ask ourselves: “What’s the best way to respond so my children will become more grateful as they mature?”

That’s the question Andrea Hussong (from the University of North Carolina) and colleagues sought to answer in 3 -year study involving over 100 parents and children. They considered 6 parental responses to ingratitude: self-blame, letting it go as a “phase” the child will outgrow, becoming frustrated or distressed, punishing, giving in, or teaching/instructing.

They discovered several details about gratitude between parent and child, but I want to focus on what responses parents and children in the study thought fostered gratitude. Parents believed their children showed more gratitude after 3 years when they responded to ingratitude with negative consequences, for instance, putting a toy left out where someone might trip over it into time out or taking away an opportunity for dessert because the child expressed ingratitude for supper.

Children, on the other hand, reported increased gratitude when their parents “got upset or frustrated by their ingratitude.” In other words, when parents express their authentic emotions about their children’s ingratitude, their children listen… and learn.

So, if you get frustrated by your child’s ingratitude and the expectations that accompany that ingratitude, let them know.  Stay calm, take a breath, look them in the eye, and tell them: “I get upset when you don’t appreciate the food I give you and my effort in preparing it.” “It’s very frustrating that I spent all evening playing a game you wanted to play and now you demand to stay up late.” “I really get angry when you leave your toys where someone could trip over them when you know how to put them away when you’re done playing.”

Then, if the ingratitude continues, a negative consequence may also help. “No dessert” due to ingratitude over dinner. An “earlier bedtime” in response to demanding behavior in the evening. A toy “put in time out” for the day because a child did not put it away when asked to. The important thing is to make sure the consequence is associated with the area of ingratitude.

And just as important, when your child expresses gratitude, show a little gratitude in return. Your gratitude will reinforce the behavior you desire, the behavior of showing gratitude. Children learn from their parent’s example. Your gratitude will set a good example. It will “rub off on them.” In fact, your children will rarely become more grateful than you. The more gratitude you show, the more gratitude they will show.

The Perfectly Inadequate Parent

Have you ever worried about your skills as a parent? Have you ever just hoped you were doing a “good enough” job as a parent…and still had your doubts? Have you ever thought, “I have no idea what I’m doing… hopefully not destroying my children”?  If you answered “yes” to any of those question, I have good news.

First, welcome to the world of honest parenting. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. We all fall short. We all make mistakes; and we all learn as we go. We are a work in progress, a group of perfectly inadequate parents…and that is great news! Our times of “falling short” of perfection while doing our best to lovingly parent our children actually benefits our children. That leads me to the next benefit of being a perfectly inadequate parent.

Second, our children learn from our shortcomings and mistakes.  Our shortcomings give our children the opportunity to learn how to manage stress in an imperfect work. Our mistakes allow our children to learn how to handle their own mistakes by watching how we handle our mistakes. Our ability to learn and grow through our mistakes, to accept responsibility for our mistakes, and apologize for our mistakes teaches our children to do the same. In other words, our shortcomings provide our children with the opportunity to learn how to manage the stress and “momentary hiccups” they are bound to experience in our imperfect world of relationships.

Third, being a perfectly inadequate parent makes us aware of our need to ask for help. We need to gather a community of other parents (young and old) who will lend us their eyes to see how we might improve, their ears to listen empathetically to our concerns, their shoulders upon which to cry, and their mouths to voice encouragement. We need a community with which to celebrate the joys of parenting as well as share the emotional burden of parenting. Our shortcomings drive us to that community…and that’s good news for us and our children.

Let me repeat: if you feel like you’re struggling as a parent, as if you’re inadequate, that’s good news. It means you care. You love your children…and you want to be the best and most loving parent you can. That “love covers a multitude of sins.” When you love and connect with your children, they will learn and grow even through your shortcomings. Our children learn positive lessons through our mistakes and our successes when we begin and end by building a genuine, loving relationship with them (see An Amazing Parenting Insight Learned in Three Parts). In other words, parenting that flows from a loving relationship with our children will turn our perfectly inadequate parenting into perfect parenting.

Don’t Let Your Family Go Hungry…For Touch

Virginia Satir said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”  She realized something very important for our families. Our children, our parents, and our spouses need our healthy touch. Without healthy touch, our family will get “touch hungry” and that’s worse than “hangry.” For instance, one study involving 509 adults found “touch hunger” increased loneliness, depression, and stress while decreasing happiness, relationship satisfaction, and relational security. Another study found “touch hunger” reduced satisfaction and closeness in romantic relationships.

“Touch hunger” doesn’t just impact our mood and relationships either. It can have an actual physical impact as well. For instance, one study found that 10 minutes of holding hands followed by a 20 second hug with a partner, contributed to lower blood pressure and heart rate during a stressful experience. Other studies have shown “touch hunger” contributes to an increased sense of physical pain and disturbed sleep. Finally, this study and this study suggest that hugging increased immune health in general and, more specifically, those who were hugged more were less likely to show symptoms of a virus (the common cold) than those who were not hugged. And, when they did show symptoms, the symptoms were less severe.

I don’t want my family to go hungry for touch, do you?  I don’t want them to experience “touch hunger.” I want them to enjoy the healthy touch that contributes to less stress, greater happiness, and more secure relationships. I want them to receive enough healthy touch that they sleep well, experience less physical pain, and maintain a healthy immune system. I’m sure you do as well.  Make time today to hug your family. Better yet, hug them several times. After all, they deserve more than survival and maintenance. They deserve growth.

Enhance Your Tween’s Self-Esteem

Nurturing a positive self-concept in our children as they move through the “tween” and teen years can be a challenge. Harsh, even mean, social comparisons and peer criticisms chip away at their self-esteem on a daily basis. However, research published in April 2019 offers a practical and efficient way to improve our children’s self-esteem even during these years. This study used data collected from 6,209 11-year-old children participating in the United Kingdom Millennium Cohort study. These children completed a self-esteem scale as well as a questionnaire to determine how often they listened to or played music, engaged in visual arts, or read for enjoyment at home. They were also asked how often, if at all, one or both parents joined them in the activity. Finally, teachers rated the children’s level of ability in music, art, design, and the English language. The results revealed at least three interesting findings.

  1. Children who engaged in visual arts activities “most days” tended to have significantly higher levels of self-esteem than those who participated less often. That difference doubled when comparing those who engaged in art activities “most days” with those who engaged in art activities “less than once a month.”
  2. Children who engaged in reading or in making/listening to music with a parent 1-2 times a week also reported a higher level of self-esteem than those who did not.
  3. Finally, a child did not have to be good at the activity to reap the benefit of a higher self-esteem by engaging in that activity. It appears that engaging in the activity, not one’s ability, was the key factor.

In other words, a great way to nurture your child’s self-esteem is through visual arts, music, and literature. Children experienced a higher self-esteem when engaging in visual arts independently and with parents. Reading and music showed increases in self-esteem when engaged in with a parent. What does this mean for you and your children? You can nurture a healthy self-concept and a higher level of self-esteem in your child by:

  • Reading to them and with them.
  • Reading the same book as your child and taking the time to talk about the book with your child or teen.
  • Listen to music together and talk about the music you listen to.
  • Sing together. Play instruments together. (This is a great family fun night, too.)
  • Dance together.
  • Draw or paint together.
  • Make crafts or art projects together.

You may be thinking, “But I’m no good at those things.” That’s OK. Remember, the study revealed that you don’t have to be good at the activity to reap the benefits of an improved self-image. Just enjoy the process. Enjoy the time together. And enjoy your child’s boost in self-esteem.

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