An important aspect of feeling secure in a family is wrapped up in the answer to this question: “Are you available to me?” Most of the time, this question is not explicitly spoken, and the answer is given without saying a word. Instead, the answer is seen in our actions. A study published in the November 2021 edition of the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity involved 1,054 healthy adults and showed the critical importance of how we answer this question. Specifically, the study explored whether giving social support played an important role in health. The researchers utilized measures of interleukin-6 (IL-6, which is a marker of systemic inflammation in the body and associated with increased risk of diseases like cardiovascular disease and cancer) to assess the relationship between giving social support and personal health.
At the start of this two-year study, participants completed a questionnaire measuring their social integration and how much they believed they could rely on family and friends when needed. Two years later, participants returned to the lab for blood tests measuring for IL-6. Careful reviews and assessments of the questionnaires and the completed blood work revealed that being available to givesupport was associated with lower levels of IL-6. In fact, the researchers only found this association in those who believed they could give support in their relationships. Did you catch that? It wasn’t the receiving of support that proved beneficial to health. Health was associated with being available to provide social support to family and friends, not just receive social support. It seems that our health is bound up in our willingness to be available to give social support to family and friends. This was especially true for women.
Back to our question: “Are you available to me?” According to this study, an individual’s answer to this question effects their health. When I am available to support my family and friends today, I experience greater health tomorrow. Now imagine if each family member made themselves available to support other family members. Each person’s relationships would become more rewarding and stress-relieving. The healing power of mutually supportive relationships would enhance the whole family’s health and well-being. In other words, being available to your family today means having a healthier family tomorrow. So put your family on the schedule. Set the example for your family by making yourself available to support them. Here are some great ways to make sure you are available to your family.
Schedule family meals several times a week. You can meet as a whole family or with individual members of your family.
Have a date. Whether it be a family outing date, a date with your spouse, or a parent-child outing, enjoy time together.
When a family member celebrates, celebrate with them. When they look down, ask them what’s going on. When they need comfort, comfort them. Take time from your schedule to be available to the profoundly important things in your life—like your family.
When a family member asks you for help, make the time to help them. Sure, there may be times you cannot help. But you can often set aside some less important activities (watching a TV show, reading a book, playing a game on your phone, etc.) for a short time in order to be available to help your family. Do your best to remain available to support and help your family.
Trust. Our children need to develop a healthy ability to trust if we want them to have healthy relationships. In psychology, our ability to trust develops based on our relationship to our parents—our attachment to our parents. If children have a secure attachment to their parent, they learn a healthy trust of other people. If they have an insecure attachment to their parent, they may struggle to trust other people and, as a result, struggle to some degree in relationships throughout their lifetime. Is this truly the case? Good question.
A ten-year study of 128 toddlers and their mothers assessed this idea. At the beginning of the ten-year study, researchers evaluated the mother-toddler attachment using the Strange Situation procedure (a state-of-the-art method of measuring secure vs. insecure attachment in toddlers). Ten years later, when the children were in their early adolescence, the researchers observed how the adolescents evaluated the trustworthiness of a stranger.
Adolescents who had tested insecure as toddlers showed less ability to identify “low trustworthy” facial cues. On the other hand, toddlers who had tested secure in their mother-child relationship were better able to differentiate trustworthy from untrustworthy facial cues.
The ability to differentiate between trustworthy and untrustworthy facial cues contributes to adolescents having fewer relationships in which an untrustworthy person hurts them…and more positive relationships with trustworthy people. That sounds like something I want my children to experience. How about you?
You might be thinking, “But my children are well past the toddler years. Is it too late?” No. It is never too late to develop a positive, secure relationship with your child. And as you do, they will grow and learn. They will better learn who to trust and how to trust. How can a parent develop a positive, secure relationship with their child. Here are five brief ways you can build a more secure relationship with your child.
Set apart time for your child. Developing a secure relationship takes time, lots of time. Spend time with your children.
Enjoy your child’s exploration of the world around them. Get to know your child and their interests. Get excited about their interests and provide them opportunities and ways to explore those interests. Talk to them about their interests and what they are learning. Be excited with them. Admire their exploration of themselves and their world as they explore interests and hobbies.
Be available when your child encounter struggles, obstacles, and fears. You don’t have to fix the situation or make it easier. In fact, bailing them out will hinder their growth. But your relationship with your child will grow when you are available to support, encourage, and gently hold them accountable in difficult situations.
Comfort your child when they become upset or disappointed, hurt, or frustrated. Be available as a safe haven to which they can return for comfort and love when challenges arise. Listen to them. Empathize with them. Comfort them. Problem-solve with them. Do all this within the loving embrace of a comforting relationship.
Play.Play is an opportunity to spend time with your child, allow them to explore themselves, and comfort them in challenging situations. Play is an opportunity to have fun with your child, admiring their abilities and their wisdom. Play will build trust. Play is an opportunity to build relationship. Enjoy times of play with your child.
Committing to these five actions will build a stronger more secure relationship between you and your child…a relationship from which they can explore themselves and the world, knowing you are a safe haven to which they can return to refuel with love and go on.
You may have read previous blogs I’ve written about the value of family dinner (see The Lost Art of Family Meals, Everything I Need to Know I Learned at Dinner, Have Fun, Eat, & What? for a sampling) …or the good news about the benefit of ice cream for breakfast. But this study suggests that the timing of dinner impacts parent and child interactions. The data was taken from the American Time Use Survey in which about 41,000 U.S. families kept detailed time diaries. The data suggests that parents who ate dinner prior to 6:15 interacted more with their children in the time between dinner and bedtime. Specifically, they read with their children 27% longer, played with their children 18% longer, and spent 11% more quality time with their children in the evening than those who ate dinner after 6:15. This remained true even after controlling for family background, socio-demographic factors, and family characteristics.
Overall, dinnertime seems to mark a transition to more family-oriented activities. So, more time after an earlier dinner and before bedtime results in more family quality time spent together. That includes more time reading together and more playing together. And that’s great since reading with our children has been shown to help them develop greater empathy and kindness (Raising Kinder Children). Reading paper books (vs. digital books) to your children at bedtime may encourage collaboration and less controlling behavior (The Digital Bedtime Story). Engaging our children in play has many benefits including brain development, reduced behavior problems, and greater parent-child intimacy among other things (Who Needs a Prescription for Play?). In general, play will make your child a head taller than himself.
Enjoy an early dinner. Then enjoy the extra time with your children and family. Everyone will benefit and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.
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.
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?
Turns out that one of the best ways to learn about teens is to ask them questions about themselves. But ask with caution because questions are powerful. Using them improperly can result in a backfire that drives your teen into silence. In order to avoid the backfire, keep these safety precautions in mind.
Do not fire questions too rapidly. Machine gun firing of questions leads to a backfire. The teen becomes overwhelmed and shuts down, silence.
Why ask why? Why? Because “why questions” backfire. “Why would you do that?” leads to defensiveness. “Why are you going there?” invites a lie. “Why” can make your teen feel criticized. Best to think of a different way of wording the “why question.” Try a “what” or a “how.” “What led you to try that?” “What kind of things are you going to do there?”
Condescending questions backfire as well. Asking a rhetorical question with a tone of voice that says your teen should also know the answer” pushes their silence button. Your teen will likely think, “No need to talk with them. They think they know everything.”
Questions designed to make your teen confess will backfire. Such questions make your teen feel trapped. What reason would they have for answering a question for which you already have the answer. (Notice the avoidance of the “why question: “Why would they answer?”) It makes them feel humiliated. Instead, make the statement of what you already know.
“Closed questions” fall into the category above. They invite simple “yes/no” answers or answers from a limited set of options. They also introduce the questioner’s bias and, many times, are used to manipulate the listener toward a certain end. Teens run from this trap. They shut down. “Closed questions” backfire.
Caveats in mind, questions are powerful. You can learn a lot about a person by asking them thoughtful, loving questions with an open and curious mind. Some powerful questions include:
Follow-up questions. When your teen is telling you about something, ask them follow-up questions to assure you understand. This shows you value them enough to listen and become interested in what they are saying.
Open-ended questions. Open questions allow your teen the freedom to express their thoughts and opinions. A parent will often learn a great deal about their teen through the careful use of open-ended questions.
Be sensitive to your teen’s mood and schedule when asking questions. Look for the right time to ask a question. Do not ask questions as your teen runs out the door or while they are in the middle of their video game. Ideally, you can develop times when your teen is available to ask question. For instance, bedtime, supper time, and time in the car as you go to various events provide great times to talk with your teen.
Use the “right” tone and volume. A casual tone often contributes to more ready responses. A volume sensitive to your teen encourages more responses.
Be willing to answer questions your teen asks of you. Our children and teens want to know about us. They want to know about our lives, our mistakes, our victories. Be willing to answer questions they might have. If a question seems inappropriate (and some will), you can politely tell them you do not think they need to know those answers right now. But, be willing to accept the same answer from them.
Questions are powerful ways to build a relationship with our teen. Used recklessly, questions can backfire and leave you with a silent teen. But used wisely, questions can help you learn about your teen. You will grow more connected with your teen. You will enjoy a deep, loving relationship with your teen.
Do you want to be a “Master
Parent”? No parent is perfect. In fact, the most perfect thing about a “perfect
parent” is their imperfection (blog). Still,
don’t you want to become a “master parent,” one that creates an
environment most likely to produce growth and health for your children? If so,
let me briefly describe seven ingredients that go in to becoming a “master
A “master parent” is warm and affectionate. They prioritize developing a relationship with their children. Of course, they are the parent and their children will get mad at them sometimes. In fact, almost every “master parent” has experienced their children saying, “I hate you” in one way or another. Still, “master parents” focus on relationship. This means maintaining a respectful tone of voice and using respectful words with their children, even when angry. It means giving regular, healthy physical affection like a hug, a good-bye kiss, an arm around the shoulder, or relaxed wrestling. (The NBA Playbook will give you hints on doing this well!)
A “master parent” gives time to their children. Relationships require time, lots of it. Spend time having fun, doing projects, talking, or just hanging out. Make sure your children know you are present and available. (Here’s some tips on How to Spend Quality Time with Your Children.)
A “master parent” works with their children’s other parent. They do not put the other parent down nor do they allow their children to put their parent down. Instead, “master parents” support their children’s other parent. They encourage them. They build them up in front of their children. Most important, “master parents” work to build a positive relationship with their children’s other parent, ideally modeling a positive marital relationship for their children to emulate.
A “master parent” establishes clear rules. Rules are geared toward safety and respect for others. Rather than have a rule for every possible scenario, “master parents” teach their children the “spirit of the rule” so they can think through any given situation and act accordingly. (Family Rules are the Guardrails of Safety.)
A “master parent” established appropriate and enforceable consequences for misbehavior. Consequences are age appropriate, clear, concise, and enforceable. They are geared toward teaching appropriate behavior rather than simply punishing misbehavior.
A “master parent” focuses on behavior rather than criticism. Criticism contributes to children feeling bad, inadequate, or incapable. Mocking, sarcasm, and name calling ultimately result in more misbehavior. Effective correction is aimed at correcting the misbehavior and replacing it with more thoughtful, appropriate behavior. It involves teaching.
A “master parent” maintains a sense of humor. “Master parents” smile, laugh, joke, and play with their children. This helps build a more positive relationship. And, families that laugh together grow closer to one another.
Seven ingredients of “master parents.” How many
do you already practice in your role as parent?
If you play video games, you know
the value of a good “cheat code.” They help the player advance to a
new level or gain a special power. Other “cheat codes” help the gamer
obtain a special tool or weapon needed in the game.
If you’re a Dad of daughters, you
may feel as though you need a “cheat code.” You may want inside
information to help you move toward an advanced level of understanding in
relation to your daughter. You likely desire a “cheat code” that will
open a gateway to a special power of influencing your daughter toward
maturity. If so, I have just what you’re
looking for: “cheat codes” for dads raising daughters.
Rituals will also help your daughter pursue goals and have a greater sense of purpose in life. (Routines & rituals Add Meaning To Life.)
Your daughter will gain a greater sense of independence and mastery with appropriate routines in place.
Value: Creating shared rituals with your daughter has two great
values. First, your shared rituals will guarantee that you spend time with your
daughter. Spending time with your daughter in a shared ritual deepens your
relationship with her and increases her sense of security. Second, shared
rituals build predictability into your relationship and your home. This
predictability will increase your daughter’s sense of security. With the
knowledge of her close relationship to you and the predictability of her
environment, your daughter will feel safer to explore her world and herself.
She will pursue greater goals. All in all, routines will deepen your
relationship with your daughter, empower your daughter to explore her world,
and increase your daughter’s sense of competence. Who doesn’t want that?
Instructions: ThreeShared Rituals to create…
“Daddy-Daughter Time.” Set aside one time a week (an evening, an afternoon, a day…whatever time works best) as time dedicated to your daughter. This will become known as “Daddy-Daughter Time.” Let nothing interfere with that time.
Find out what your daughter enjoys doing. If you don’t know, ask her. If she’s not sure, ask her what kind of activities and foods she would like to try or places she would like to visit. Each week during “Daddy-Daughter Time,” do one of one of those activities with your daughter. Or, go to one of the places you have agreed upon. You might play Barbies, go to a movie, get ice cream, or go rock climbing. Your options are as broad as your daughter’s potential interests and creativity. These first three steps represent what I believe to be one of the most powerful shared rituals you can do with your daughter. You will never regret having engaged her in this way.
Become involved in your daughter’s bedtime routine. This may include reading with her, talking about the day, sharing things for which you are grateful, and giving her a simple hug and kiss goodnight. Bedtime is an amazing time to bond with your daughter.
Create a shared mealtime ritual with your daughter and your whole family. Strive to eat one meal a day together. If you can’t do one meal a day, do at least 3-5 meals a week. Establish the nights and keep the “meal date.” The shared ritual of eating together offers a wonderful opportunity to talk, share, and bond. (Learn the benefits of eating as a family in The Lost Art of Family Meals.)
It gets worse. Our children’s free time has decreased in the last 50 years. Take the time between 1981 and 1997. Children spent 18% more time in school, 145% more time doing schoolwork, and 168% more time shopping with parents (Read more in All Work & No Play: Why Your Kids are More Anxious, Depressed). Unstructured play time has decreased even though research suggests children need twice as much unstructured play time as structured time (The Decline of Unstructured Play). Once again, our children have become the prisoners to the structures imposed on them. They miss out on the free, unstructured time that allows them to grow and learn.
One last comparison…our children grow increasingly isolated from supportive, non-parental adults as they progress through school. Rather than have a single teacher for most of the day, our children gain a “revolving cast of characters” in their lives as they switch to a new teacher every hour. This change occurs when our children are going through the massive changes of adolescence and they most need the support of caring adults. (Teen Suicides Are on the Rise.) In effect, they become less isolated from caring adults and more involved with peers struggling with the same issues and who have the same lack of experience as they do. Our children need us.
The big question I had to ask myself
as I contemplated these “prisoner comparisons” is: what can we do to
break our children out of this prison? Thankfully, there are ways to do