When my children were younger, one of my favorite cartoons to watch with them was “PB&J Otter.” Actually, I liked one part of the cartoon in particular. Each episode led to a moment in which the main characters didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, one would suggest they “do the noodle dance.” Peanut, Jelly, and Baby Butter would start to dance as lyrics sang in the background:
“Noodle, use your noodle; noodle, do the noodle dance… Solve a problem, it’s no strain, use your noodle, that’s your brain…There’s an answer you can find, use your noodle, that’s your mind… In a bind, just use your mind, use your noodle.”
As they danced, something happened. They moved from the “paralysis of analysis” to the “I got it” moment. In other words, they discovered a solution to the problem. Sounds simplistic, doesn’t it? But research supports the idea that movement helps us “get unstuck” and “frees up” our thinking. When we “move” with another person, it helps us get “in-sync” with them and increases our openness and cooperation. In other words, the “Noodle Dance Principle” could come in handy in your home! No, I’m not saying you have to do the noodle dance itself…although you can if you want, and it is kind of fun. I’m simply suggesting you utilize the “Noodle Dance Principle” when problems or disagreements arise in your home. Specifically, when you get stuck on a problem or disagreement:
Get up and move. Go for a walk alone and think. This can help you calm down and think more clearly. Or go for a walk together as you discuss the issue at hand. Research suggests that moving increases motivation and the likelihood of resolving conflict. It frees up your thoughts and feelings, increasing the probability of finding a solution or of reaching a compromise. Don’t want to walk? Try going on a bike ride. Still too much? Pull up a couple of rocking chairs and rock while you talk. Or sit on a swing and swing as you put your heads together to find an answer. Find a seesaw and take turns talking as you go up and down the issues that need resolved. Whatever you do, get up and move. As noted earlier, moving enhances cooperation and gets us in-sync with those we move with. It also makes people more willing to make personal sacrifices that benefit the group. Get up and move.
Physically map out the problem or disagreement. Grab a whiteboard or some paper and sketch out your main points. Not only does this get you moving, it also makes an abstract issue visible. You can draw arrows connecting areas of agreement and highlighting common priorities. You might even move these areas of agreement and common priority to a common area on the whiteboard. Then you can co-create a solution incorporating areas of agreement and consideration for areas of difference.
These two suggestions can help you get moving toward a solution when family problems arise…or moving toward a resolution when you find yourself in a heated disagreement. So go ahead. When a problem or disagreement arises in your house, do the noodle dance…at least get up and get moving.
I am not suggesting we ignore struggles or gloss over pain, BUT gratitude will help your family and my family survive hard times. Let me explain a couple of ways in which gratitude will help your family through the tough times.
A study published in 2007 involving 236 undergraduate students showed that students who report greater gratitude were more likely to take active steps to deal with problems when they arose. They were less likely to blame themselves for the problem and more likely to look for something positive in the problem, the “silver-lining” so to speak. In other words, gratitude helps us take an active role in problem-solving during tough times.
A study published in 2009 surveyed 201 college students and found that those who were more grateful were also more likely to use positive reframing to cope with stress. In other words, grateful people were more likely to look for something in the problem to help them learn and grow rather than wallow in the negative aspects of the problem.
A 2019 study involving 71 college students found that students who spent time recording their gratitude twice a week for four weeks were better able to decrease negative reactions to negative emotions. In other words, they were better able to manage their negative emotions. Interestingly, those who wrote about gratitude used more words to describe their emotions, allowing them to better process and manage them.
Finally, a 2014 study involving 75 participants found that those participants instructed to remember a time of gratitude were more likely to wait for a long-term reward than those who recalled times of happiness or just a typical day. Gratitude helped them manage impatient urges for immediate reward. Gratitude supported patience.
What do you think? In these studies, grateful people were less likely to blame themselves and more likely to actively seek solutions and participate in the solution of a present problem. Grateful people were more likely to look for the “silver lining,” to look for what they can learn from a difficult situation. Grateful people were better able to manage their negative emotions. And, grateful people were more patient. Perhaps what we need right now is a little more gratitude. I’m going to promote that in my own life and the life of my family. Will you join me?
Sue looked exhausted, frazzled, and run down when I arrived at her house. I thought she’d be more rested at home. We had hoped to go out for coffee and conversation, but she couldn’t find a sitter. So, I figured I’d go to her house and enjoy some time together. It didn’t go as I had imagined. We did not sit at the kitchen table to enjoy conversation while her son played nearby. No, her son demanded her constant attention. She was constantly on the go responding to his unending demands for a drink, a playmate, an interaction…constant entertainment. If he wasn’t making demands, he was getting into something that forced Sue to run over and stop him, redirect him, and then entertain him. We “couldn’t get two words edgewise” because Sue’s son required constant engagement. That’s when I realized the importance of giving our children a place where they can play safely without adult intervention. Giving our children a safe place play alone, without adult intervention, demands some preparation. First, you have to organize a child-proof room. But once you have established that safe area, children can play independently with nothing more than their parent’s observation. Parents can sit comfortably or engage in other activities knowing their children can play safely alone. And, allowing our children time to play alone without adult intervention will benefit our children in many ways. Let me describe just a few of the benefits of allowing our children to play alone.
Playing alone, without adult intervention, sparks children’s imaginations and creativity. Observe your children as they play alone and you will witness dragons, princesses, cowboys, doctors, and monsters come to life. You will see detectives and firemen working together to capture invisible villains and put out imaginary fires. Playing without adult intervention frees our children’s creativity.
Playing alone, without adult intervention, gives our children the opportunity to learn problem-solving skills. When we stay out of the way, our children find their own solutions to problems that arise. They brainstorm and find ways to banish their boredom. They learn to negotiate and compromise with one another. They learn to set boundaries and assert themselves kindly. These are all lessons learned in the classroom of play when we don’t interfere with the teacher of experience.
Playing alone, without adult intervention, helps children become more comfortable with themselves. They may explore new activities and, in the process, develop their interests. They learn they are “OK” without constant entertainment because they can entertain themselves by exploring novel activities. As a result of these things, they become more comfortable with themselves.
Playing alone, without adult intervention, teaches children to manage their time. Rather than having their time managed by scheduled activities, these children learn to enjoy the quiet. They also learn how to entertain themselves.
Playing alone, without adult intervention, allows children to learn to soothe their own emotions. They learn emotional management skills like distraction. They learn to focus their attention on what they have rather than what they do not have. They learn to soothe themselves.
As you can see, allowing children time to play alone helps them grow. Children learn so much in the classroom of play when allowed to play alone without adult intervention. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we never need to play with our kids. Our children need time to play alone and they need time when we engage them in play. Giving our children time to engage in unstructured, independent play without adult intervention carries many benefits we don’t want our children to miss.
Remember Aretha Franklin’s song? “All I’m askin’ for is a little respect…R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to me….” (Listen to Aretha Franklin explain it.) Our spouse, our children, and our parents are still asking for “a little respect.” They still want us to “find out what it means” for them. In fact, respect is foundational to a healthy family. Magda Gerber (founder of RIE and passionate “educarer” of children and parents) defines respect as accepting, enjoying, and loving family members as they are and not expecting them to perform beyond their ability. Without this mutual respect, families crumble. I realize I’m probably “preaching to the choir” but even the choir falls into subtle disrespect that undermines healthy relationships. Just consider some of these subtle ways we disrespect our fellow family members when we don’t know “what it means” to them.
Our child falls and scrapes his knee. He starts to cry. We disrespect his feelings when we say, “Oh, you’re ok. Quit crying.” We show more respect by saying, “Ouch, I bet that hurt. Do you need some help?”
When our spouses do a chore and we redo it because it didn’t meet our standard, we disrespect their competence and ability. (Yes, I know…I apologize for reorganizing the dishes in the dishwasher.) A simple “Thank you” shows much greater respect.
Our children start a task but, due to inexperience, they take “too long.” We grow impatient and finally say, “Get out of the way. I’ll do that or we’ll be here all day.” Oops, we have disrespected their independence and opportunity to learn. We show respect by patiently waiting or perhaps offering, “I’m glad to help if you want.”
When our child makes a mistake and in frustration we yell, “You know better than that. What were you thinking?” we disrespect their ability to learn and grow. A respectful response would sound more like, “What did you learn from that experience? What will you do different next time?”
Sometimes we jump in to fix a problem for our children or spouse. Unfortunately, we disrespect their ability to problem solve. We exhibit respect by observing, waiting to see what they do to solve the problem, and offering help if they ask for it.
We disrespect our children’s developmental abilities when we expect “too much” of them. For instance, expecting a toddler to sit still for a long period of time…or a teen to never roll their eyes…or a five-year-old to never spill a drink. We can respect their developmental ability by letting them do the part of the task they can do and helping with the rest. We respect their developmental abilities when we patiently deal with difficulties and accidents that arise as a natural part of development. In other words, we show respect when we do not cry over spilled milk.
“Will you ever grow up?” and “You never help around here” are statements that disrespect our family members’ desire to cooperate. Respect for their desire to cooperate is heard in statements like “Could you help me get dinner together please?” and “Let’s get your room cleaned up together.”
When we tell our spouse or children “You don’t want that” or “You’re doing this whether you want to or not” we disrespect their desires and ability to choose. We can show respect for their desires and ability to choose with statements like “Would you rather do this or that?” Or, “I didn’t know you liked that. What do you like about it?”
With all the different areas in which we can show disrespect, you can see why we need to “find out what it (respect) means to me” for each family member. Disrespect is subtle. It creeps in quietly if we don’t consistently practice respect. Yet all we really want “is a little respect.” Sing it with me. “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me…” and then give it to everyone in your family. They’ll love you for it and you’ll love the joy it brings to family.
Self-awareness: the ability to recognize and label the emotions we experience in our lives.
Self-regulation: the ability to cope with feelings in a manner consistent with and relevant to the situation.
Internal motivation: the ability to utilize the energy of an emotion to achieve a positive end like communicating a priority or solving a problem.
Empathy: the ability to recognize emotions in others by remaining aware of their verbal and nonverbal cues.
Social skills: the ability to adjust our behavior in response to another person’s emotions. This allows us to more effectively connect with others, resolve conflicts that arise within our relationships, and negotiate compromises and agreements.
Reviewing the five aspects of emotional intelligence, you can understand how important emotional intelligence is for success in life. Emotional intelligence not only contributes to success in life, it also promotes health. Studies suggest that 80% of health problems are stress related. Emotional intelligence helps us manage stress and so reduce stress related illnesses. Emotional intelligence reduces bullying as well (Why Emotional Intelligence is More Important than IQ). With all these benefit, we surely want to teach our children emotional intelligence. Here are five simple exercises to get you started.
Develop a vocabulary for emotions. Dan Siegel (co-author of Parenting from the Inside) refers to this as “name it to name it.” Labeling an emotion helps “quell” its effect. The emotion becomes more manageable when we can label it. As a result, we can exercise more thoughtful control over it and our behavioral response to it (Why Labeling Emotions Matters ). In fact, the broader and more articulate a person’s emotional vocabulary, the less reactive and more responsive they can become (When Labeling an Emotion Quiets It) .
Listen and accept emotions. All emotions are acceptable, a gift from our Creator to help us communicate priorities and protect those important to us. Of course, not all behavioral responses are acceptable. So let a person express their emotion. Help them label the emotion. Encourage them to define their feelings. Coach them in expressing even difficult emotions. Listen. Accept. Understand. (For more read Teaching Your Child to Handle Emotions)
Identify the priorities underlying the emotions. Emotions clarify our priorities and reveal them to others. Take time to identify the priorities that have led to your child’s strong emotions. Knowing the priority behind an emotion allows you to address the true need. Teaching your child to identify and address underlying emotion leads to a more successful and self-controlled child.
Problem-solve. After you have listened closely and understand the emotion, work with your child to problem-solve. Let the problem-solving focus on how to address the priority underlying the emotion. (For more on these two steps read When Your Children Get Angry.)
Teach perspective taking. A great way to teach your children how to take another person’s perspective is by reading fiction together. Fiction lets us see into the minds of characters, feel their emotions, and understand their motivations. Doing so teaches perspective taking. So, read to your children. Read with your children. Talk about what your children read. It will improve their ability to take another person’s perspective and increase their emotional intelligence. (Read Teaching Your Child Perspective Taking for more ideas.)
These five simple activities can set your child on the path to emotional intelligence…and all its related benefits!
Parents love to see their preschooler exploring the world around them. We encourage our children to engage in exploration and play. Rightly so…such exploration helps them discover their interests and strengths during elementary school, their passion and identity during their teen years, and their vocation and independence in young adulthood. Exploring is crucial to healthy developmental in each age group. And, if you really think about it, it requires a great deal of courage for our children to explore the world and “become their own person.” Unfortunately, many parents unwittingly embezzle their children’s innate courage, robbing them of the grit and determination needed to develop healthy independence. Don’t embezzle your children’s innate courage, invest in it and nurture it with these four tips.
Accept your children’s unique style of exploration. I have two daughters. One jumps into new activities and experiences. The other wades in slowly, first one toe and then another before her whole foot slips in. Then she slowly (sometimes painfully slowly) wades further in until she is fully immersed. (She takes after me, by the way.) Eventually, both daughters become fully immersed in an adventure, but they required different kinds of support and encouragement. One needed encouragement to “think before she leaps.” The other needed a hand, support, and even a gentle nudge at times. As young adults, they still have different styles and ways of approaching new experiences; but both of them have become independent and capable of courageous exploration. Accepting each child’s unique style of exploration and nurturing it in a complementary manner allows your child to explore courageously.
Observe before removing obstacles. Our children will encounter obstacles, problems, and frustrations along the way. It is inevitable. Do not jump in to help too quickly. Step back for a moment and observe. Watch them to see how they respond to the obstacle. Give them the opportunity to solve the problem on their own. Watch a preschooler with a toy and you will see them try several actions with it before settling for the one that seems most appropriate. Let your elementary age children and your teens do the same with challenges that arise. Let them struggle with various attempts to solve the problem before you offer a suggestion. You might be pleasantly surprised at the creative solution they discover. (More on “stepping back” in Do Your Rob Your Teen of Victory?)
Teach problem-solving. Of course, our children will not have the ability and knowledge to solve every problem that arises. So, when they come to you for help or you see them reach an impasse, teach them problem-solving. Teach problem solving rather than simply solving the problem for them. Ask questions about what they have done and why it did not work. Ask questions to prompt other ways of looking the problem and thus give rise to a potential solution. Help them look at the obstacle from various perspectives and points of view. Come up with three or four possible solutions and let them choose which one they will try first. Learning the process of problem-solving gives children the confidence they need to courageously explore the world around them.
Acknowledge effort and reframe failures as learning. Children become more willing to explore when they know that effort produces success and failure is simply a step toward success. So, acknowledge and praise children’s effort. When they do make a mistake or fail, return to step three and teach problem-solving. Effort and problem-solving opens up a world of possibility and emboldens exploration. (Read Growing Your Child’s Mind for Success for more.)
These four tips can help increase our children’s courage to explore…and that can help us avoid the “failure to launch” syndrome as they mature. It will also give you the pleasure of watching your child explore the world with confidence and, in so doing, grow more independent and mature.
All kids get angry. I hate to say it, but it’s true. No matter how hard you try, your children will get angry. It can feel frightening and overwhelming when your children have an angry outburst. But, anger is not all bad. Anger is an emotion and all emotions have a purpose. When our children get angry, the goal is not to get rid of the anger but to learn how to manage the anger, to use the anger for growth. That end may include reaching a goal, solving a problem, or advocating for justice. How can a parent do this in the moment of their children’s anger? These tips might help.
Accept and acknowledge your children’s anger. Anger is typically triggered by something. But it often continues when the angry person does not feel heard. The first tip in helping turn your children’s anger into an opportunity for growth is to make them feel heard by acknowledging their anger. You can do this by narrating the situation. Narrate how you perceive their anger, what physical manifestations you see of their anger, and what might have triggered their anger.
As you acknowledge your children’s anger, take the time to label their emotion as well. Label their anger. Give it a nuanced definition to fit the situation—frustrated, angry, resentful, annoyed, irritated, furious, or impatient, whatever fits the situation. Labeling an emotion expands your children’s emotional vocabulary. Having a good emotional vocabulary will help your children manage their emotions independently in the future.
The goal in steps #1 and #2 is to defuse the anger. You may have to set some boundaries around behavior at the same time. Do not try to stop the anger. Simple set boundaries on how to act on the anger. For instance, “You can be angry at me, but you cannot hit me in your anger.” Of course these types of boundaries only need to be spoken at this time if your children are crossing them in their anger.
Problems are not solved in the heat of anger, so help your children calm. Take time to soothe them. In doing so, you are teaching them to soothe themselves. You are helping them build the neural connections necessary to soothe independently. Take a break. Let all those involved go to their “neutral corners.” It may take 20-30 minutes of focusing on a topic other than the topic that led to anger in order to calm down.
As your children calm, begin to problem solve with them. Explore what triggered their anger, not just the situation that triggered their anger but what priority the situation represents as well. Did your children feel disrespected or taken advantage of? Did they believe someone took something that belonged to them, something material or personal? This may take some time as their anger may result from any number of priorities. After you discover the priority, explore ways to meet that priority and resolve their anger. Going through this process helps your children learn how to do it. Eventually, they will do it on their own.
Finally, prepare for the next time. Consider a future situation and practice the solution discussed in step #5 in your mind’s eye. You can also role play a future situation and try out the solution. Make this practice fun.
These 6 steps can change the way your children respond to anger over time. Each time you go through this process with your children you move one step closer to them doing it all on their own.
Do you rob your teen? Many parents do even though they don’t even know it. Parents rob their teens by “getting in the ring” with them instead of “staying in their corner.” For instance:
Parents “get in the ring” to protect their teen from the consequences of poor choices. In the process they rob their teen of the opportunity to learn from the consequences of those poor choices.
Parents “get in the ring” and stand between their teen and his peers by getting involved in their teen’s Twitter skirmishes or Instagram battles. When parents become over-involved in their teen’s social media ring, they rob him of the chance to learn how to set limits or negotiate relationship stress.
Parents “get in the ring” by fixing each and every problem that arises in their teen’s lives, robbing her of the opportunity to learn creative problem solving and time management skills.
When their teen doesn’t get the play time she desires, parents “jump in the ring” to fight for their teen’s right to play…and rob her of the right to learn the hard work necessary to earn a spot or how to advocate for themselves.
In each of these instances, parents jump into the ring and rob their teen of the opportunity to become more independent. Their actions steal their teen’s self-confidence by silently shouting an implicit message of their teens’ inadequacy to “fight their own fights” and achieve their own goals. Parents pilfer their teen’s opportunity to learn from mistakes and improve their abilities. They even embezzle their teens’ opportunity to celebrate success and so rob them of even more self-confidence. Getting in the ring is an act of thievery on a parent’s part.
Parents can avoid robbing their teen by staying out of the ring and remaining in their corner instead. Parents who stay in their teens’ corner play a crucial role in their teens’ life, even their life in the ring. Parents in their teens’ corner do four things that provide and empower rather than rob and steal.
First, parents in their teen’s corner listen. When teens talk about problems, frustrations, or difficulties, a parent in their corner will listen intently to understand how the situation impacts their teen. They remain present, not to fix and solve but to support and relate. In this way, teens feel heard and understand, accepted and valued.
Second, parents in their teen’s corner validate their teens’ experiences. They help their teens label emotions and more clearly define the problem. Understanding the nuances of a problem situation empowers teens. It allows for a deeper understanding of the people involved and the impact of the context. It opens up possibilities for responding.
Third, parents in their teens’ corner encourage their teen by acknowledging strengths and resources available. They identify their teens’ internal strengths and abilities as well as external resources which their teens can access. Knowing a parent acknowledges and believes in their abilities empowers teens. It will build their self-confidence to know their parents believe them adequate and resourceful enough to “meet the challenge.”
Fourth, parents in their teen’s corner will problem-solve with their teen. Rather than lecture and advise, parents in the corner offer words of wisdom based on years of experience, wise words of guidance. Rather than direct and command, they will ask questions or tell a story based on their own experience that will stimulate their teen to think of a unique response to the current situation.
If you want your teen to mature and grow more independent, get out of the ring. Let them fight their own battles. At the same time, stay firmly entrenched in their corner. Listen, validate, encourage, and problem-solve. You can do it all in the corner and watch them grow in the ring!
Christmas break will soon be over and our children will soon be returning to school for a new semester. How can we help them have the best day in school? Is there a way to boost their memory and increase decision-making abilities? If so, doing so could benefit their academic achievement and social interactions. And, a recent study suggests a possibility to actually do this (click here for PsyBlog review)! Although this study looked specifically at older adults, the review notes several studies suggest the same is true for young adults and common sense tells us it is true for children and youth. What boosts memory and decision-making abilities? Surprisingly, it is nothing extravagant or complex. In order to increase memory and positive decision-making ability in our children before school is to enhance their positive mood. Sounds simple; but, if you have kids, you know how complex it actually is to enhance a positive mood in the morning for children and teens. How can you enhance a positive mood in your children? Here are a few ideas:
Prepare the night before. Set out clothes. Pack lunches. Put homework in the backpack. Do as much as you can the night before to eliminate the morning rush.
Do not discuss emotionally loaded topics in the morning before school. Save the potentially conflictual issues for another time and place. And, when you do have the hard discussions, don’t lecture.
Enjoy a healthy breakfast. A good meal helps increase positive moods. Talk with your children about the foods they prefer for breakfast and have those foods available.
Be aware of your children’s sensitivities. Some children like quieter mornings. Some children are irritated by bright lights in the morning. Be aware of these sensitivities and set up the environment accordingly. If necessary, dim the lights and turn down the radio. These simple steps may help produce a positive mood which can boost memory and decision-making at school.
Get up early enough that your children do not have to rush. Just 15-minutes earlier can provide a buffer of time to reduce stress and enhance positive mood.
Helping to enhance positive mood not only helps prepare for a positive school experience, but may help in those difficult discussions outside of school. When you need to discuss difficult topics with your children, increasing their positive mood may enhance that discussion. Increasing a positive mood in your children before such a discussion may help them make better decisions and remember the decision afterwards. So, tell a joke. Share a story. Sit down for a snack. Enjoy an activity together during the discussion. Whatever will increase their positive mood may also help the conversation go better and the outcome more enjoyable.
If you have been married for any length of time, you know that arguments happen. If you have ever parented a teen, you definitely know that arguments happen. And arguments escalate. Each person conspires to make the other person understand “what I’m saying.” Defensiveness increases. Voices get louder. Heart rates begin to increase. Breathing accelerates. Many people find their jaw tightening. Other body muscles begin to tighten. Each person becomes determined to prove “my position” and “defeat” the other person’s position. In other words, the argument is no longer about resolution. The body has moved into a fight or flight response. Each person is either looking to fight and win or shut down and escape. Neither choice helps resolve the disagreement. But, there is a way to win this argument. That’s right. Here is a technique you can use to win an argument, even after it has gotten to the level of “fight or flight.” This solution will sound counterintuitive, but it is the best move to make. The move…? Take a thirty minute break! I told you it sounds counterintuitive. But, it is true. The best way to resolve the disagreement and win the argument is to take a break. Dr. John Gottman wrote about this idea in his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. “In one of my experiments,” he noted, “we interrupted couples after 15 minutes [of arguing] and told them we needed to adjust the equipment. We asked them not to talk about their issue, but just to read magazines for half an hour. When they started talking about their issue again, their heart rates were significantly lower and their interaction more productive.” In other words, a thirty minute break in which both parties focused on something other than the argument, helped them calm down. Their heart rate returned to normal. Their breathing returned to normal. The stress hormones pulsing through their veins decreased. As a result, they could think more clearly. It was no longer about survival. It was about resolution. They could think about their partner and what was best for their relationship instead of focusing on defending themselves. They could listen better…and understand. So, next time you find yourself in an argument with a family member that seems like it is going nowhere, take a break. In fact, take a thirty minute break and focus on something else. Then, come back, discuss the disagreement, and search for a resolution.