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9 Tips For Helping Your Child Manage Anxiety

SOURCE:  Helena Negru/Lifehack

Parents want nothing more than to see childhood remain a time of carefree wonder and joy for their children, an age of innocence wherein the troubles of the wider world are kept at a safe distance by caring adult oversight.

As such, the parents who have anxious children are faced with a difficult dilemma: How do they protect their children from the multitude of relatively “normal” activities (e.g. going to school, socializing with friends) that provoke anxiety and fear while also ensuring that they experience life fully and develop properly? How do they help their child manage anxiety?

There are no easy answers to the above question. Psychologist Tali Shenfield, PhD suggests that parents first evaluate the level of child’s anxiety with a free child anxiety screening test and then, depending on test results, use the following anxiety management strategies:

1. An “empathy first” approach

When most parents hear their child expressing irrational fears, their first response is to assure their child that, logically, there is nothing to worry about. While this act is well-intentioned, it’s usually ineffective; the brain of any anxious individual – young or old – is too engaged in the “fight or flight” response (wherein activity in the prefrontal cortex, the “logical” part of the brain, is suppressed) to properly process new information.

What an anxious child therefore really needs is a parent who simply feels with him- one who pauses with him, joins him in taking a few deep breaths, and then validates his emotions as being acceptable.

Once you have empathized with your child and he has visibly calmed down, then and only then should you look for possible solutions. Do this while engaging your child: Ask him what he thinks would help him to feel better and overcome his fears.

2. Avoid making your child feel like a problem to be fixed

Children – even children without chronic anxiety – frequently struggle with fears of being “different” from their peers or unacceptable to their parents. If your child feels like his anxiety means something is “wrong” with him, his issues with worry will only increase as he will be plagued by constant self-doubt.

To prevent the above from happening, avoid labelling your child (i.e. don’t call him an “anxious person” or a “worrier”); instead, explain to him fear’s historically beneficial role in protecting us from harm (i.e. our instincts once helped us to avoid predators in the wild).

Ideally, you should teach your child to see worry like a tool: It’s useful in some situations, but in others, our brains are simply reacting to “false alarms” due to instinct. Tell your child that it’s possible to learn a few simple methods for recognizing these false alarms and for dealing with them effectively.

3. Consider using play to help your child understand his anxiety

Role playing exercises, such as having your child create a character which embodies his worry, can help your child learn how to dismantle his anxieties. Use a toy (such as a doll or stuffed animal) to represent the character your child creates, then you and your child can sit together and practice talking the character out of his misplaced fears. Make sure that every time the character succeeds in overcoming his anxiety during the stories created for him, he ends up with a “happy ending” as a result.

4. Teach your child how to centre himself in reality

Our fears have a way of distorting reality, making situations appear much scarier than they actually are. To help your child overcome the mind’s innate tendency to exaggerate objects of worry, teach him to:

  1. Recognize worried thoughts as they happen. Visualization is useful here: Tell your child to imagine thoughts floating above his head in “thought bubbles,” then ask him to practice catching the fearful thoughts as they pop up.
  1. Deconstruct the thoughts he catches using factual evidence. Emphasize to your child that feelings are not facts. When faced with a worry, tell your child that he should weigh up factual evidence for and against what his mind is telling him (for example, if he fears failing a test, he should review the many times he has passed tests over the years and remind himself that he has studied thoroughly, making failure unlikely).
  1. Debate with his thoughts (if necessary). Using the facts he has just gathered, you child can debate with the worried thoughts his mind is producing until he eventually wins and overcomes them.

5. Allow your child to worry

The more your child feels as though he should be able to simply shove his worries away, the more he will believe he is somehow failing when he cannot. You should therefore avoid saying things like, “There’s no reason to be afraid” and instead encourage your child to express his worries.

Creating a “worry diary” is an excellent strategy for getting your child to vent what’s bothering him; have him spend 15 minutes a day writing down any worry that is weighing on him – no matter how small – and allow him to share those worries with you if he wishes. At the end of the 15 minutes, have him literally close the book on his worries and set them aside.

6. Affirm the importance of remaining in the present moment

Like anxious adults, anxious children spend a lot of time preoccupied with “what ifs.” Instruct your child to try to catch his “what if” thoughts and replace them with “what is” thoughts. For example, if he’s thinking, “What if my new friend stops liking me?” he should pause, focus on nothing but his breath for a few moments, then look around and take in “what is”: The sun shining as he waits for the bus, the sound of the birds in the trees, the feeling of the warm air.

Intentionally returning one’s focus to the present in this way (by focusing on sensory perceptions) is a form of Mindfulness, a popular therapeutic practice which has been repeatedly shown to lessen anxiety.

7. Help your child take “baby steps” in order to overcome fearful situations

It is usually impossible – and always unhelpful – for an anxious individual to avoid everything that is causing him anxiety. Instead, your child should try the “ladder” approach: Overcoming fearful situations by working up to them in a succession of small steps.

If your child is afraid of dogs, for instance, have him start by observing a familiar dog (one that belongs to a friend, for example) from a distance, then have him walk closer to the dog while it’s safely leashed, then have him try to pet the dog while another person is still holding the leash, and then finally, let him interact with the dog briefly while it’s off its leash. If this process is repeated a few times with a few different friendly dogs, your child will likely overcome his terror.

8. Have your child create a “calm down” checklist

Ask your child to write down a series of steps to take when he needs to calm down (e.g. pause, breathe deeply, count to ten, evaluate the facts of the situation, etc.), so that he has something clear to refer to when he begins to feel panicky and confused. Make sure that your child carries a copy of this checklist with him until he memorizes the steps.

9. Don’t blame yourself for your child’s anxiety

Many parents of anxious children wonder if they have somehow “caused” their child to become excessively fearful, but this is usually not the case: Genetics and environmental factors over which parents have limited control (bullying at school, for example, or a traumatic accident) often lie at the root of childhood anxiety – not “bad parenting.”

It’s important to avoid blaming yourself for your child’s anxiety; the more you do so, the more emotional you will become about the situation and the less able you will be to help your child stay calm (your own worry will eventually cause you to become reactive, which will affirm your child’s idea that there is something to be afraid of). Instead, see yourself as your child’s ally, a member of his team as he fights against anxiety.

Remember, being compassionate to yourself, as well as to your child, is essential when creating a calm, loving, and healthy home for your whole family. If you find yourself struggling to cope with your child’s anxiety, don’t go it alone – seek the aid of friends, family members, and if necessary, a mental health professional. With the right support, you and your child can triumph over irrational fears and live full, happy lives.

20 Questions To Ask Your Child

Source:  Patti Ghezzi/School Family

One day your child tells you everything, from the consistency of the macaroni and cheese in the cafeteria to the hard words on the spelling test to the funny conversation she had with her best friend.

The next day…poof.

Parent: “So, what’s going on at school?”

Child: “Nothing.”

For many parents, the information they receive about what’s happening at school ebbs and flows, especially once their kids hit 10 or 11 years of age. Even younger children may be reluctant sometimes to share the details of school life.

It doesn’t mean that something’s wrong or that you’re somehow missing a key piece of the parenting puzzle. It may simply be that your child is asserting independence and craving a little privacy. “No one tells parents this,” says Peter Sheras, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Virginia who specializes in adolescent relationships, family relationships, and stress. “Parents feel they are not very good at parenting.”

Of course, that’s not the case. You might just need to tweak your approach. Don’t interrogate, Sheras says. Kids don’t want to be grilled. Be subtle; be patient. Learn to listen intently to the words your child does offer. Watch your child’s body language and demeanor. Avoid yes-or-no questions if possible, and be specific. Try escalating—starting with simple questions and gradually delving into more sensitive topics.

If all else fails, wait it out. Try again later with a different approach, such as choosing a different time of day to start a conversation or taking your child out for a burger before asking questions. In a place where she’s comfortable, she might feel more talkative.

Don’t start the conversation with “We need to have a talk,” Sheras says: “That’s when a child dives under the table.”

Here are some questions that can help you get started.

  1. “I know you were stressed out about that math test. How did it go?”
  2. “I’m really proud of how well you’re doing in school. What are you studying these days that really interests you?”
  3. “You seem to have some good teachers this year. Which one is your favorite?”
  4. “If you could make up a teacher from scratch, a perfect teacher, what would he or she be like?”
  5. “When I was your age, I really didn’t like social studies. I just didn’t see the point in studying how people in Russia lived or what kind of languages Native Americans spoke. What subject are you really not liking these days?”
  6. “What’s your favorite time of day at school?”
  7. “What do you think about your grades? How does your report card compare with what you were expecting?”
  8. “We used to have the meanest boy in my class when I was your age. I still remember what a bully he was. Do you have anyone like that in your class?”
  9. “I’ve been reading a lot in the news about kids picking on other kids. What about at your school? Is that happening?”
  10. “I’m hearing a lot about bullying on the Internet. It sounds a little scary, but I really don’t know what it’s all about. Can you tell me about it?”
  11. “I noticed a few new kids in your class. Which ones have you been able to get to know? What are they like?”
  12. “I know it was hard for you when Kenny transferred to a different school. How’s it going without your best friend around?”
  13. “Who did you sit with at lunch today?”
  14. “I’m sorry you didn’t get invited to Sarah’s birthday party. I know you’re disappointed. How have things changed between you and Sarah now that you’re not in the same class?”
  15. “I really like the way you choose such nice friends. What qualities do you look for in a friend?”
  16. “I know you really like your new friend Caroline, but whenever I see her she’s being disrespectful to adults. Why don’t you tell me what I’m missing? What do you like about her that I’m not seeing?”
  17. “I can tell it embarrasses you when I insist on meeting your friends’ parents before letting you go to their house, but it’s something I need to do as your mom. Is there a way I could do it that would make you feel more comfortable?”
  18. “How’s it going with your activities and schoolwork? What would make it easier for you to manage your schedule and responsibilities?”
  19. “I feel like I haven’t talked to you in ages. How about we go for a walk and catch up?”
  20. “I’m sure I do things that embarrass you. What do I do that embarrasses you the most?”

Talking with your child should be an ongoing process. Keep the dialogue open, and be available so your child can find you when she feels like chatting.

One final piece of advice from Sheras: “Keep talking even when you think your kids aren’t listening,” he says. “Your children are listening whether they act like it or not.”

Whose Dream is it Anyway: Damaging Parenting Styles

Source:  Tim Elmore/Growing Leaders

My son loves participating in a community theatre program here in Atlanta. He is a true thespian. He loves the drama of a Broadway show. He loves the drama of television or movies. He loves the drama of musical theatre. Unfortunately, he’s seen a little too much drama from the adults in his life. If a parent in this community theatre program feels their child wasn’t’ cast appropriately, or if someone doesn’t affirm their child’s talent when her self-esteem is low, or if they don’t spotlight their son’s abilities when the talent scouts are present, these parents can turn into terrorists. There’s nothing more intimidating than a mom or dad who’s determined to fight for their kid’s rights. I cannot tell you how many times the parents in this community theatre program have embarrassed me by their immature behavior. They fail to lead themselves well, much less their kids. I find myself thinking: “Please…let’s keep the drama on the stage.”

And it’s not just the parents. It’s the teachers and staff as well. There is a general lack of healthy leadership and maturity among the adults, period. There are actually times when I’ve felt the kids are more mature than their adult teachers or parents. I consistently watch parents who behave like spoiled children, yet when they’re confronted by a leader for their behavior, they cry foul, or act hurt, like they’re the victim. It’s a sad commentary on the most educated generation of parents in U.S. history.

But the real issue is not the education of these parents or teachers. They have sound minds. Our problems are issues of the heart. In my last “Leadership Link”, I shared four damaging parenting styles. The truth is-these damaging styles can also be found among teachers in our schools today. Highly educated faculty can have emotional issues that prevent them from leading well in their classrooms. For that matter, these issues can surface in a corporate executive or a youth pastor. Let’s examine these damaging styles and explore what we can do to correct them.

WHAT TO DO WITH HELICOPTERS, DRY CLEANERS AND MONSTERS…

The Helicopter Parent or Teacher
These parents hover over their kids, working to make sure they get every imaginable advantage. This parenting style has been written up most widely in journals. They are the parents who want to ensure that doors open for their children and no negative incident affects their self-esteem or diminishes their chances of being accepted at an Ivy League school. Helicopter parents are committed to helping their children make the grade, make the team and make the money. When teachers become helicopters, they hover over students and create unfair environments and unrealistic scenarios that students must recover from when they enter the real world as adults.

The Problem: They don’t allow their kids the privilege of learning to fail and persevere.

The Issue: It is very possible parents and teachers can be “helicopters” because they possess a controlling spirit. Adults who struggle with being “out of control” or who find it difficult to trust others to deal with items they hold precious tend to be “hovering” and micromanaging in style. They mean well-but they feel it is up to them to make sure life turns out well for the kids. These adults, quite frankly, must learn to trust the process. I must face this issue from time to time myself. I must realize I am not in control and one day my children will enter a world where they cannot ask me for advice. Control is a myth-and the sooner we acknowledge that fact the better we’ll act as parents.

The Karaoke Parent or Teacher
Like the karaoke bar, where you can grab a microphone and sing like Barry Manilow did in the 1970s, these parents or teachers want to look and sound like their students. They want to dress like their child, talk like their child, even be cool like their child. They hunger to be a “buddy” to their kids and emulate this younger generation. They somehow hope to stay “cool” and “hip” so they can relate to their children all through their young adult years. They don’t like the thought of being out of style-and work to maintain an image. Sadly, these karaoke parents and teachers don’t offer their kids the boundaries and authority they desperately need. Last month, I read about a mother who allowed her daughter to have a house full of friends over-all minors-then allowed them to drink alcohol and even bought it for the kids. Several got completely inebriated; damaged the house and neighborhood; the police were called and a mess had to be cleaned up. The reason? Mom reported she wanted her daughter to feel like she trusted her. Mom didn’t want to be disliked by her daughter and was willing to take big risks to accomplish that goal. The children of these adults often grow up needing a therapist at 28, angry at their impotent parent.

The Problem: They don’t provide their kids the clear parameters that build security and esteem.

The issue: Frequently, parents and teachers become karaoke in their style because of their own emotional insecurities. Adults may have an extremely high I.Q., but if their E.Q. (Emotional Quotient) is low, smart people begin to do dumb things. These adults will rationalize why they do what they do, but in the end, the only remedy is for them to embrace their own age and stage, and relate to the students in an appropriate manner. I remember when I began to teach students in 1979, I related to them like an older brother. Within a few years, I realized I needed to change the way I was relating to them if I was to stay “real.” I moved to the role of an uncle. Some years later, I remember moving to the role of a dad. I could be a father to the students I teach today. I must embrace this and give them what they need, not necessarily what they want.

3. The Dry Cleaner Parent or Teacher
We take our wrinkled or soiled clothes to the dry cleaners to have them cleaned and pressed by professionals. It’s so handy to drop them off and have them handed back to us looking like new. These “dry cleaner” parents don’t feel equipped to raise their kids so they drop them off for experts to fix them. Although the home environment has spoiled or damaged their child’s character, they hope a school, or counselor or soccer team or church youth group can fix them. Sadly, these parents forget that none of us are “pros” at raising kids. It is a learning experience for all of us, but we must recognize it is our most important task. Yesterday, I met with a teacher who reported the mothers of her young students are nearly all stay-at-home moms but drop their kids off (with a tennis racket in their hand) because they aren’t ready for the responsibility of caring for their child. They leave them at the school for ten hours each day.

The Problem: Dry Cleaner parents don’t furnish their kids the mentoring and authentic face to face time they require.

The issue: For some of these teachers or parents-connecting with kids is just not their specialty. There may be an inadequacy and identity issue. They don’t feel adequate for the task, or they just don’t believe it is part of their identity. Sadly, this parent or teacher has kids staring them in the face. It’s time to be what they need. Sadly, it is too much work for them to connect with the student. Consequently, they hide behind the fact that they are busy with so many other priorities-even work-which enables them to pay for their child’s interests. These teachers or parents need to run toward the very challenge in which they feel they’re weak.  Relationships make it all happen. Parents and teachers must build bridges of relationship that can bear the weight of truth.

4.  The Monster Parent or Teacher
These parents can transform into a rage, like the Incredible Hulk if they are backed into a corner. They often will write papers for their children, do homework, apply for jobs or colleges just like the helicopter parent-but for a different reason. They do the work of their kids attempting to live out their unlived life through their child. When their child receives a poor grade on a paper, they have been known to storm into a principal’s office and argue over the grade. Why? They actually wrote the paper. It has been a bad reflection on them! They want so much for their child to make it because their child is their last hope of leaving some sort of name or legacy themselves. They have unrealized dreams or baggage inside they never dealt with in a healthy way. Sadly, they don’t provide the model or the healthy environment young people long for.

The Problem: These parents still have some unrealized dreams from their past-sometimes an unhealthy past.

The issue: The child represents the best way for the adult parent or teacher to accomplish the dream they gave up on years earlier, even if it is vicariously done. Their behavior is often the result of baggage from their past. The best step this adult can take is self-care. They must address their own emotional health; deal with their own issues, so they don’t further damage a child in their wake. Children have a much better chance of growing up if their parents (or teachers) have done so first. The best way we can help kids become healthy leaders is to model it for them.

I should be clear on the fact that I believe there are millions of healthy parents and teachers around the U.S. and across the globe. Yet, each of us lean toward one of these styles above to some degree. I simply wish to address the issues preventing us from authentic leadership and mentoring in the life of our children. I believe healthy leadership from healthy parents and teachers produces healthy students who become healthy leaders themselves. I am haunted by the truth that James Baldwin once penned: “Children have never been good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

Where’s Mom?

SOURCE:  Ron Deal/Family Life

It hurts to watch a child suffer rejection from an uninvolved parent. Or from an inconsistent parent who promises time together and repeatedly breaks the promise.

One of the great tragedies of divorce is when one biological parent disengages from a child. For example, as is reported in my book The Smart Stepdad, 10-15 percent of nonresidential fathers drop out of their kids’ lives.

Watching your child suffer rejection from an uninvolved and uninterested parent is heartbreaking. Even worse, I’ve observed that an inconsistent parent who promises time together and then repeatedly breaks the promise can be even more heartbreaking to children. Their hopes are raised, only to be dashed on the rocks of disappointment again and again. Of course, this leaves the other parent to explain their absence.

Broken promises

Jennifer’s mother, Pamela, lived across the state. Pamela had remarried and had a new son. Jennifer lived with her father, Roger, and stepmom, Amy. Pamela’s new marriage and blended family, together with a growing career, took a lot of her time. However, her guilt for not making time to be with her daughter led her to (with good intentions) promise Jennifer special weekend visits that never happened.

As Jennifer entered adolescence she constantly wondered if her mom would finally keep her promises. She became increasingly oppositional toward her stepmother and father and unmotivated in school. Though previously a good student, her grades were failing fast and so was her father’s tolerance of her behavior.

A complicating issue was Pamela’s constant invitation to Jennifer to come live with her. She conveniently blamed her ex-husband for Jennifer’s trouble in school and implied everything would be better when they could finally be together. This kept Pamela and Jennifer pseudo-connected, sharing an empty fantasy.

Eventually, Jennifer began to ask why her mother didn’t care to be with her. Her increasing age and cognitive abilities gave her a new ability to see through the empty promises her mother repeated numerous times. When she finally admitted her mother’s deception, she sank into depression and self-blame. Her father, Roger, asked me what he should say to help Jennifer.

Coping with reality

I first reminded Roger that no explanation would take away Jennifer’s pain and nothing he or his wife could do would stop the longing in Jennifer’s heart. Parents cannot take away a child’s grief; they can only help them cope with reality. I also suggested that it was okay for Roger to share his anger toward his ex-wife as it related to Jennifer’s pain, but that he should then redirect conversations back toward Jennifer and her feelings.

In response to Jennifer’s statement, “Does Mom think paying child support is enough?” Roger might say, “This is extremely hard for you. It feels like your mother just doesn’t care. My heart is so sad for you; I wish your mother would keep her promises. Tell me more about how you’re feeling.” Such a response communicates an understanding of her pain and validates her experience.

Jennifer’s father should not openly criticize Pamela (“she is selfish”) or make excuses for her (“she’s just so busy at work”). Focusing on Jennifer’s feelings and helping her to develop a plan for how she will relate to her mother is the best approach. In addition, finding a therapist for Jennifer might offer her a safe outlet to talk about her loss, anger, and sadness.

A stepmom who wanted to fill the gap

Jennifer’s stepmom, Amy, wanted desperately to fill the gap in Jennifer’s life. In some ways, she could, but in other ways could not. I encouraged Amy to pray for her diligently and to keep a respectful tone when talking about her mother. (The trap in this situation for stepparents is joining the child in their frustration only to have the child turn on you.)

I encouraged Amy to look for opportunities to discuss what Jennifer says and does, but not to become overly emotionally invested in her decisions or conclusions. For example, when Jennifer is crediting her mother with being responsible even though she isn’t, Amy should engage the conversation gently. “I can tell you are certain your mom will show up as promised this weekend. (Now shift the focus to the child, away from your critical opinions of the parent.) You really are hoping to see her, aren’t you? I hope you get to. You are a great kid and deserve to spend some time with her.”

The trick is not getting caught in the trap of trying to change Jennifer’s fantasy about her mother. That is, unfortunately, something she has to teach herself (and it will be a sad day when she does).

Finally, I promised Roger and Amy that these suggestions would feel grossly inadequate to help Jennifer. And they are. In such circumstances, we cannot get rid of a child’s pain, but we can hug the hurt. “Reinforce your love for her over and over,” I suggested. “And hold her when she cries.”

Should you make the children go see a disengaged parent?

Frequently a parent and stepparent will ask if they should make a child go see their disengaged mother or father if the child doesn’t want to. Some children grow calloused toward an undependable parent and prefer not to be around them (and you can’t blame them). What should parents do?

  • Young and pre-teen children should be encouraged to keep the visitation schedule, even if the withdrawn parent pawns them off on grandma.
  • Teens can consider the decision more thoroughly and should have a stronger say in whether they visit and how often.
  • Consider the custody agreement. You don’t want to be accused of not honoring court orders. Consult an attorney to discuss the implications of letting the child stay home.
  • Never stand in the way of reconciliation of a disengaged parent and child, but do become an advocate for the child. For example, you might say, “I’ll tell Johnnie you are taking him on Saturday when you arrive, but not until then so he’s not disappointed again.”

PRAYING FOR OUR CHILDREN

Source:  Unknown

…that they will know Christ as Savior and Lord early in life.  Ps 63:1; 1Tim 3:15

…that they will have a hatred for sin.  Ps 97:10

…that they will be caught when guilty. Ps119:71

…that they will be protected from the evil one in each area of their lives:  spiritual, emotional, and physical.  John 17:15

…that they will have a responsible attitude in their personal relationships.  Dan 6:3

…that they will respect those in authority over them.  Rom 13:1

…that they will desire the right kinds of friends and be protected from the wrong friends.  Prov 1:10-11

…that they will be kept from the wrong mate and saved for the right mate, and that they both will be kept pure until marriage.  1 Cor 6:18-20; 2 Cor 6:14-17

…that they will learn to totally submit to God and actively resist Satan in all circumstances.  James 4:7

…that they will be single-hearted, willing to be sold out to Jesus Christ.  Rom 12:1-2

…that they will be hedged in so they cannot find their way to wrong people or places and that wrong people can’t find their way to them.

Parenting a difficult child

SOURCE:  Julie Lowe/CCEF

Some of the most burdensome moments for a parent are when it is clear to those around you that your child is defiant or difficult. What are other people thinking? What does this say about me as a parent? They might assume your child’s behavior is a result of inadequate parenting or something else amiss in your home. People may even be bold enough to share their views, without any sense of the shame they are heaping upon you. Those of you with a difficult child understand. You feel marked, and even judged, by your child’s personal struggles. You hang your head around people who “know” about the problem. You assume they see you as a failure. If you were a good parent, surely your children would be well-behaved, love God, and have good manners. After all, their children are not so insubordinate.

If this is how you feel, you may have bought into the belief that good parents produce good children and bad parents produce bad children. At times, this seems downright biblical. If you raise a child in the way he should go, he won’t depart from it, right? So it follows that if you were godly enough, wise enough and patient enough, your child would not be so rebellious. It seems that the right formula is: love plus discipline plus godly instruction = “good” kids. And because, at times, the formula does seem to work, you determine the error must be in your parenting.

I’ve heard many a parent say, “We’ve exhausted all options, all approaches, all forms of consequences… and nothing worked. I tried being calm; I tried consistent discipline; I tried appealing to their conscience and praying with them and for them. Nothing helped. Nothing changed.” What the parent means is that it did not produce the desired behavior change or a visible heart change. The assumption is that, once again, the formula was applied, and it proved useless.

But this is a faulty, unbiblical approach. Good kids come out of horrific family backgrounds, and rebellious, willful kids come out of good, Christian homes. Children do not come to us as blank slates, but with their own personalities, strengths, weakness, desires, and temptations towards particular sin. They are born with hearts that are wooed by their own desires, and they exercise volition to choose for themselves the type of person they will become. There is an active moral responder on the other end of your parenting—one who chooses whom they will serve. And there is no way a parent can ensure the outcome.

Of course, a parent does play a significant role in a child’s life, but don’t buy into the belief that assumes good parenting will produce well-behaved children. It incorrectly places all the ownership and blame on you. And the burden of it might tempt you to want to give up or resort to poor or ungodly parenting (anger, yelling, harshness, despair, backing down, or backing away completely) because it might appear to work in the short run.

What then are you to do? Let me suggest two things that might help.

First, evaluate your motivation. Though you are not responsible for your child’s bad choices, could it be that, without realizing it, you are adding to the problem? If you are frustrated, despairing, or angry because your child is difficult, you need to ask yourself: What standard do you judge yourself by? Whose agenda is dictating your parenting? Is it a worldly, self-centered agenda, or a Christ-centered one? You can desire good things that become driven by very bad motives. Do you care too much about your own comfort or reputation? Do you desire a well-behaved child with few problems, or struggles? Children that make you look good, that are productive, smart, and kind? Are you embittered because you have invested yourself in this child and see no results? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, consider confessing the desires that grip your heart. Ask God to give you the grace, fortitude, and wisdom to parent your challenging child. Ask him to show you how to respond to your child out of love and concern for his or her wellbeing, not your own.

Second, remind yourself of what God calls you to as a parent—no more, no less. He calls you to love your children, to model a Christ-like character and lifestyle, and to respond wisely and thoughtfully to their struggles. You are to foster a personal relationship with the living God, and, to the best of your ability, shape your child’s strengths and weaknesses in his image. Though God expects you to parent with consistent love and wisdom, he does not hold you responsible for results that are driven by the child’s sin or rebellion.

Stop “trying” to make things turn out a particular way and just do the hard work of godly parenting. Do not judge its effectiveness by your child’s response. Simply wrestle with this:

Is my parenting loving?
Is it consistent?
Is it wise?

That will be challenging enough. You will fail, be convicted, and need forgiveness on those fronts alone. The rest must be left to the work of the Spirit in a child’s life. You will find much freedom from judgment, less care for the opinions of others, more hope and less despair when you commit your parenting to the Lord. Let him do the rest. As Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not grow weary of doing good.”

Teaching Our Kids Not to Be Bystanders to Bullying

SOURCE:  Jonathan McKee/FamilyLife Ministry

Most kids on today’s campuses probably fall into the category of “bystander.” They know they should probably do something, but they don’t.

“I feel guilty about it every day,” he told the crowd, a little choked by his own words.

The church youth group was captivated by Blake’s vulnerability.

Blake seemed like a normal high school kid: decent grades, a soccer player, and from a good home. But this particular young man was obviously plagued with guilt.

“I saw him being made fun of every day,” he said, “and I did nothing to stop it.”

Blake went on to share about how the two of them used to be really good friends. They went to the same school, hung out at recess, and went to each other’s birthday parties.

But then came middle school. In middle school you’re judged by who you hang out with, and Blake’s friend was definitely on the nerdy side. Blake’s new soccer friends noticed this and began making fun of him.

“Is he your friend?”

“Why are you hanging out with him?”

So Blake cut off his relationship with his friend.

The situation took a turn for the worse. By high school, Blake’s athletic friends began regularly hurling insults at his old friend during lunch or in gym class. Blake never chimed in. He just watched in silence.

Blake confessed that he could still picture the look on his friend’s face. He was haunted by the image.

As I heard Blake’s story I winced, because I knew the story well.

Blake’s old friend was my son.

Peer Intervention

Blake was never a bully. He was the dictionary definition of a bystander, someone who watches and does nothing. Most kids on today’s campuses probably fall into this category.

But bystanders hurt others just the same. It’s a sin of omission. They know they should probably do something, but they don’t.

We need to equip bystanders to advocate for kids who are bullied. I firmly believe today’s young people are the cure for bullying. I speak to younger people at countless events encouraging and equipping them to stop bullying at the outbreak.

Bystanders don’t need to do what their name implies: stand by. They can stand up and do something.

When bystanders stand up and do something, it’s called peer intervention. I use the term peer intervention because those two words have become buzzwords in bullying research as researchers have come to realize how much difference one kid can make.

We can help our kids truly make a bullying breakthrough by teaching them the 5 Rs:

1. Recognize the effects of bullying

Much recent research has revealed that increased screen time is slowly killing empathy. The more people stare at screens and communicate using screens, the more socially hindered they become. We need to help young people look up from their screens, notice others, and think beyond their own little world.

Whenever I speak to young people about bullying, I always tell plenty of stories. Stories help us all look beyond our own perspective and see through the eyes of others. Stories cultivate compassion and empathy.

Parents and teachers can raise awareness by talking about the effects of bullying and sharing stories that help young people consider the perspective of others. Many bystanders have never paused to think through the ramifications of laughing at someone, teasing them … or watching and doing nothing.

2. Realize you can make a huge impact.

One kid can make a huge difference. Really. Just one.

Countless studies show that one friend is enough to prevent the downward slide toward depression.

A report in the journal Development and Psychopathology revealed, “Just one friend is enough to buffer an anxious, withdrawn child against depression. And it doesn’t have to be a particularly close friend—not an intimate or a confidant, as an adult would understand it, just some kind of social connection with someone their own age.”

We need to help our kids understand just how powerful their simple acts of friendship can be.

Maybe a peer steps in and says, “Hey, that’s not okay.” Or if that’s too risky, maybe they approach the victim later and say, “Would you like to talk?” Those simple gestures are by far the most effective in helping those experiencing bullying.

3. Resolve not to bully others.

Most movements begin with a decision, a commitment, a “resolve.” I think of Daniel in the Bible when he was plucked from the safety of his home and plopped down into a world brimming with temptations. He made a decision, a commitment. He “resolved not to defile himself” (Daniel 1:8).

Whenever I speak to today’s young people, I give them the opportunity to make a public commitment. It’s one thing to be moved with compassion. Commitment puts feet to those feelings.

Compassion without action is nothing.

Resolve is the decision to take actions. Which brings us to specific actions kids can take…

4. Refuse to join in.

One of the most important actions in which kids can engage is in not engaging.

Bystanders have the ability and responsibility to avoid any behaviors that build up bullies by tearing down others. Bullies thrive on attention and affirmation. Give them neither.

So help bystanders learn to avoid the following:

  • Laughing at jokes at the expense of others
  • Listening to rumors, gossip, or hate speech from anyone
  • Physically standing with a group that is mocking or gossiping about others

Refusing to join doesn’t always necessitate speaking up or saying, “Hey, this isn’t okay.” Sometimes bystanders can walk away, or in class they can just keep their attention on their schoolwork.

If bullies don’t receive any affirmation or attention for their mean behavior, they’ll usually stop said behavior.

5. Reach out to someone who is hurting or alone.

The best bullying advice I have ever heard comes from Paul’s letter to the Philippians in the Bible:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:3-5)

Can you imagine if everyone actually lived out this advice? We could cut down on a whole lot of bullying for sure! It’s amazing what simple acts of kindness can do. But these acts are rare. Kids are all about “mine!” Put out two pieces of cake for your two kids and both will grab for the bigger piece. It’s uncommon to find a kid who genuinely offers the bigger piece to their brother or sister.

At school it’s the same. Kids typically value self above others, not the inverse.

But this generation of young people really wants to do something and make a difference. Often, they just don’t know how. It’s an interesting tension. They’re self-centered, but want to help others. Sometimes a caring adult can help connect the dots by showing how to get from A to B.

What would it look like to invite that awkward kid over to hang out after school … knowing full well that it might be awkward?

Passages like the one from Philippians 2 are impactful as we teach our kids how to reach out. Be humble. Consider others better than you. This is what Jesus modeled.

Showing humility and valuing others above self are concepts kids don’t spend much time thinking about, but you’ll be surprised how much kids will rise up when given the opportunity to demonstrate these values.

Bystanders don’t just have to “stand by.” One friend really does make a difference.


Excerpted from The Bullying Breakthrough, copyright © 2018 by Jonathan McKee.

Asking Forgiveness From My Kids … Again

SOURCE: FamilyLife Ministries

My kids need to grow up with the knowledge that I require a Savior just as much as they do.

I yelled at my kids tonight.

It started before the mouthwash spilled all over the floor, my jeans, and my new shirt.

That I have an issue with anger and emotional control is not something I’ve kept secret. But it’s still painfully destructive in my own home: “The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down” (Proverbs 14:1).

So when my blood pressure had returned to an appropriate range and I determined the mouthwash only minimally soaked my front, I called all of my kids to our little loveseat. Some of them crawled out of bed. They piled around me like puppies. And I took the time—again, like I have to do so often—to apologize to them and ask for forgiveness.

Then, I led us in praying and repenting to God. It was duly needed for all of us.

I thanked my kids for forgiving me—also not so bad a quality to practice—and ended with tickling them into screaming laughter.

As I backed out of their room in the dark later, I yowled in pain after stepping on an electrical plug someone had left in the doorway. My second son was quick on the draw: “Still love me?” He collapsed in giggles.

None of this, I’m afraid, undoes what I did.

I wish I could take away my eruptive lack of self-control, or the way I morphed instantly into a drill sergeant. I wish I could subtract what I modeled for my kids. But what still remained in my power were two words: “I’m sorry.”

Their sin doesn’t justify mine

A family that practices repentance keep short accounts with each other, apologizing quickly and sincerely. The point of apologizing to my kids even when they’re in trouble isn’t at all to detract them from their sin. They need to grow up with my willing confession as the norm, to give them the knowledge that Mom requires a Savior as much as they do. An awareness of the log in my eye—even when my children or spouse are the offenders—is biblically commanded (Matthew 7:1-5).

So take it a step further, even, than those two critical words. Deliberately ask for forgiveness, and then humbly and verbally extend forgiveness: “I want you to know that I completely forgive you, and that I believe God forgives you, too.”

I guess it can sound a little hokey when we’re not used to using such language in our homes, but that’s my point. Should it be?

Call me an idealist, but I’d like this replication of Christ’s words to become the norm, a chance to apply the gospel to myself and to my loved ones daily.

The Joys (and Tears) of Parenting My Adult Children

SOURCE:  Shantel Patu/The Gottman Institute

I watched as she stormed into the house. Peril, sheer peril, if you let her tell it.

She hadn’t noticed me reading, quietly in the corner, so she went about, slamming cabinets and drawers, then finally ending her assault on the kitchen by opening and staring into the fridge. I heard her mumble something about hating her job, her co-workers, her commute, and of course, her meager paycheck that she waited for each week. She was adorable.

I peered over my book and examined her. She was considered an average-sized person, about 5’7”, which was a giant to my 5’1” frame. She had these amazing, almond-shaped, bright brown eyes, which she was constantly complaining about the size and the color of, but to me and her father, they were gorgeous.

I looked at this amazing person that I had created, and the thing that stood out to me (besides her poked-out lip) was that she was now an adult. She looked over as if noticing me for the first time and asked, “What are you looking at, mom?” I couldn’t help but smile. All she needed to do next was stomp her left foot, and as if on command, she did. I chuckled as she morphed into my little girl. “Nothing,” I managed to say.

My adult daughter was now a 20-year-old college student. She drove herself everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. She bought her own food and was renting a small room from her best friend. She was by all accounts an adult. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but to still see her as my little girl.

Raising a child seems to be a lifetime psychological and physiological commitment that I signed in blood, the day she was born. I had no idea there would be so much obligation and yet I’ve gleefully devoted my life to this being. The ups and downs of parenting are definitely a challenge, but just wait until you get a load of the young adult shenanigans you get to parent through next.

Parenting has taught me and my husband a lot about ourselves, our relationship, and even about our ever-changing co-parenting styles. I remember when we first delved into the theatrical account of the Misadventures in Parenting, starring us. Our co-stars were two girls and two boys and we weren’t given a script, just pure improv. Our life featured an ambient abstract of “do’s and don’ts,” as we narrated through the whimsical and slightly wild adaptation of our own version of “This is Us,” not yet rated.

Over time, we discovered that our children were complex beings and that parenting is kind of like bartending: you add a lot of this, a bit of that, a touch of this, and eventually you find yourself drunk on the specialty of each of their individual brands. I can remember having to learn to understand my 5-year-old son’s Love Language and his different personality vices while woefully enjoying my 11-year-old’s new-found independence. It was an oxymoron of joys and tears. I can also remember saying prayers with my 4-year-old, then explaining God to my 6-year-old, while my 8-year-old listened and somehow empathized with Satan and felt he got a bad rap for getting kicked out of heaven, saying, “It’s too bad for him, mama, he doesn’t even say his prayers anymore.”

We, the parents, have so many roles that we didn’t know we were signing up for. So much was left out of the job description. And to do this job, with all of its expectations, we weren’t even given an Ikea-style instruction booklet. I have had to be a janitor and a maid (neither of which offers pay or benefits). Often times, I was called upon to be a nurse, a surgeon (I am magical with tweezers) and my favorite, a therapist. Parents always need an open ear or two. One for listening to a variety of woes and the other for listening out for a variety of mischief.

We’ve been cheerleaders, pep squads, coaches, and teachers. We’ve shown great prowess as a lawyer, judge, jury, and sometimes even the proverbial executioner (metaphorically speaking, of course). There were also the joyful titles of superhero and GOAT, greatest (parent) of all time. Yet, with all of these moving parts of parenting, they somehow missed including any of it in the birthing orientation.

I find that I’m really enjoying watching my children grow into adults that I can be proud of. I don’t even mind the new roles of ATM, auto mechanic, co-signer, organizer, and their forever therapist (janitor and maid still somehow keep being requested).

As parents, we are hard on ourselves and even harder on our parenting, but in the end, all we can really only hope for is that our children become thoughtful, caring, and loving adults.

Everything else is up to them to figure out. That’s what parenting adult children is all about, learning to watch them figure it out, and of course, waiting in the wings to swoop down like the superheroes that we are. And I see that now.

So regardless of how daunting the tasks, time, and commitment of parenting may seem, we do it to the best of our abilities and with little acknowledgment or appreciation for our sacrifices. Our hopes and dreams lie simply in seeds we planted in their little hearts to grow.

And then it happens. They finally grow up. And hopefully, they are able to leave our loving arms, in search for the means to wrap their loving arms around someone else and become parents themselves.

Your Child Is Not Your Enemy

SOURCE:  Brooke McGlothlin/Gospel Centered Mom/FamilyLife

Here are eight ways we can fight for, not against, our children in their hard-to-handle moments.

When the days of mothering grow long and make a girl weary, and when what you really want to do is lock your child in a bedroom and throw away the key, it’s good to remember this: Your child is not your enemy.

Our goal for our children isn’t to create super kids, nor is it to strip them of all the quirks and traits that make up their personalities. Our fight is to help them grow toward Christlikeness, into the best version of them that they can be.

With that in mind, here are eight ways we can fight for, not against, our children in their hard-to-handle moments.

1.Tell God He can have you. I made this number one because it’s the most important. None of the other steps matter much at all unless you’re willing to let God change you first.

I’ve learned firsthand the importance of allowing God to strip me of old, sinful habits that hinder my ability to fight for my children. In other words, most of the time the battle for my boys involves battling with myself. I’m the parent, and I can’t win if I allow myself to be dragged down to their level. My goal is to rise above and invite them to come with me.

2. Get in the habit of prayer. Every one of us wants to know what God wants us to do so we can just do it and be done. I sometimes feel frustrated because it doesn’t seem like God gives me clear direction when my heart is ready to do whatever He tells me to do. But I’ve come to this conclusion: Most of the time I’m too busy talking to actually hear when He is speaking to me.

That’s why taking a break to pray before I speak, before I react, and before anyone else gets up in the morning, and praying throughout the entire day is so important. God wants to give us direction and comfort, but we’re often too busy juggling life on our own to ask.

3. Embrace the power of a mommy timeout. It doesn’t necessarily take long to recharge if you know what works for you. What gives you a healthy sense of relief almost instantaneously? Is it music? A good book? Reading your favorite Bible passage? Getting on your knees in prayer? Whatever it is—and it may vary from day to day—do that.

You cannot parent your children well when your heart is frazzled. Even if you have to take five-minute mommy breaks multiple times a day, do something to focus your attention on Jesus. Remember that peace has nothing to do with what’s happening around you. Peace comes only from relationship with Jesus Christ. You can’t manufacture it with things or even changes in circumstances. It comes from within as you surrender your life to Christ.

4. Prepare ahead of time. Just as I have my own triggers, certain things tend to agitate my sons. After studying them for years now, I’m beginning to recognize these triggers and to be physically, mentally, and spiritually prepared for the inevitable.

When it’s time to leave the pool, I get their attention about 20 minutes beforehand and let them know we’re leaving in 20 minutes. Then I give them updates every few minutes so that when it’s actually time to leave they’re not taken by surprise.

I don’t think I can overemphasize prayer’s importance as an in-the-moment tactic as well as part of the advance preparation. I pray a lot. For my response as well as for my sons’.

5. Be stronger. When they were very young, I would often pick up my boys and carry them, despite their flailing and kicking, to a safe space for them to calm down. Now I can ask them to go somewhere safe, and they will, albeit not always without emotional drama. We’re fast approaching the day when they’ll be much stronger than I am, so what I’m talking about here isn’t physical strength so much as emotional and spiritual strength.

You may have heard it said that a leader can take his followers only as far as he has traveled. As a parent, you are, by default, a leader. God gave you to your children to teach them, train them, and make it as easy as possible for them to know Him. To lead them well, you don’t have to know the answers to every theological question or have your whole life together; you just have to be a few paces ahead of where they are.

6. Love harder. There are a lot of amazing things about my boys, things I know God will use one day for His glory and purpose in their lives. But for right now, they’re raw and unrefined and often drive me crazy.

One day, they’ll fight for something instead of against it. Until that time, it’s my goal to love them harder than they fight me. If my boys go to bed each night feeling more loved than fought and more a treasure than a hindrance and know there’s nothing they could ever do to make me not love them, I call that day a success.

7. Be a student of your child. There’s no one-size-fits-all method when it comes to raising godly children. Sometimes, I wish there were. Other times I’m glad it’s not up to me to change their hearts. God can do a much better job of that than I can.

What is within my power is to study my son, to really know him—his personality, what makes him happy, what makes him tick, what sets him off, what makes him feel loved. When a mom knows those things, she can tailor her parenting to the specific strengths and weaknesses of the child. It empowers the parent to reach the heart of the child, deep down inside, instead of just trying not to be inconvenienced by his bad behavior.

8. Refuse to give up. I know you’re tempted daily to give up. So am I. When things don’t go as planned, when children continue to be resentful or disobedient regularly, when the clutter grows unmanageable, and the pile of laundry threatens to avalanche, we might be tempted to say, “I quit. I’m not even going to try anymore.”

The circumstances we’re in today are not forever. If we stay the course, we will reap a harvest, even if it happens on the other side of heaven. There’s more waiting for us when we get there. The choices we make today to press on and fight the good fight will make a difference in generations to come, influencing who among our family and friends will get to join us with Jesus. Do not give up.

6 Hurtful Childhood Lessons That Linger into Adulthood

SOURCE:  

Children are, by nature, helpless and dependent human beings whose existence and well-being is dependent on the adults around them. This means that they have no choice but to trust their caregivers (parents, teachers, priests, family members, elders). Moreover, children are in development and new to the world, and therefore they are naturally ignorant and impressionable.

Because of all of this, the caregiver-child relationship is exceptionally momentous to us when we are growing up. Whatever people say to us, good or bad, often stays with us for a very long time. The way people treat us sets a precedent on how we see ourselves and how we see relationships and the world in general.

In this article, we will examine a few common messages children hear that haunt them long after they’re adults, and sometimes for their lifetime.

1. It’s not a big deal

Here the child’s feelings are minimized. What may not seem like a big deal from an adult perspective can be a very big deal to a child. If a child’s feelings and experiences are invalidated, they become confused, anxious, or dissociated.

As an adult, the person is often quick to dismiss their own feelings, wants, and desires. They are also out of touch with how they really feel and think, and why.

2. You always mess things up / You’re such a failure / You can’t do anything right

In this instance, the child feels hurt and anxious. Being treated as if you’re worthless teaches the person to believe that they are worthless. As a result, this person may struggle with self-care and low self-esteem in later life.

They routinely feel anxious because they are worried that they are doing something wrong, and apathetic because they feel like a failure no matter how hard they try.

They often feel self-loathing, sometimes to the degree of severe self-harm or even suicide.

3. Don’t pretend / You don’t mean that / That’s not how you feel

This is another form of invalidation and confusion. Often, if the caregiver doesn’t like something the child does, feels, or says, they tend to negate it by simply saying that the child’s thoughts and emotions are wrong or not real.

The person learns that it’s forbidden or even dangerous to feel certain feelings and express, or even have, certain thoughts and observations. In order to survive, they will also learn to dissociate from who they are and develop a persona that is at least marginally acceptable to their caregivers.

4. You provoked me / You made me do it / It’s all your fault

Here, the caregiver is engaging in victim-blaming, where they put the responsibility of being abused onto the child. Not only the child was hurt, but they were blamed for being hurt too. This is incredibly cruel.

As a result, the person learns to ignore and accept toxic behavior from others. They also internalize that if people mistreat you, then it’s your own fault, that you deserve it for being “bad” or “inherently defective. They learn to self-blame.

5. You’re too sensitive / You need to toughen up / This will teach you a lesson

This is in relation to being abused or otherwise expressing hurt. The caregiver is minimizing the child’s pain and fails to empathize with them.

Another lesson here is that the child’s emotions are wrong and that they should feel less of whatever they are feeling. That they should be “stronger,” “more mature,” meaning that you should repress your emotions, dissociate from them, and accept abusive situations as normal.

6. You make me look bad / Think about how I feel / Make me proud

Here, it’s all about the caregiver (meI). The caregiver explicitly lets the child know that they should live their life as the caregiver wants and meet their expectations even if that’s not what the child wants. Sometimes the child gets so lost and erased that they are convinced that living the scenario their caregiver imposed on them is what they actually want.

Also, if the child fails to be who the caregiver wants them to be then they get severely punished: either explicitly (beatings, yelling, threats) or covertly (rejection, emotional unavailability, conditional “love”). The child learns that the only way they can survive in the world is by being fake, complicit, and self-sacrificing. In other words, by living for others only and self-erasing.

Summary and final thoughts

Many people grow up in an environment where they are mistreated and taught harmful beliefs. When we are developing, our caregivers’ and other authority figures’ opinions and treatments of us are extremely impactful to our development.

As a result, many of us learn bad, untrue lessons and beliefs like “I’m worthless,” “I can’t do anything right,” “I have to please others,” “My emotions and thoughts don’t matter,” “It’s dangerous to feel and express my feelings,” “If people mistreat me it’s my fault,” “I’m inherently defective.” In this article we only explored a few and just from a few angles, but there’s so much more to it.

Overcoming, or even recognizing, these beliefs and their effects can be really challenging. However, it is indeed possible to challenge them and gradually become free of them.

Which Type Of Emotionally Neglectful Parents Raised You? 17 Signs to Look For

SOURCE:  Dr. Jonice Webb

What kind of parents fail to notice their child’s feelings?

Since this type of parental failure (Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN) causes significant harm to the child, people naturally assume that emotionally neglectful parents must also be abusive or mean in some way. And it is true that many are.

But one of the most surprising things about Childhood Emotional Neglect is that emotionally neglectful parents are usually not bad people or unloving parents. Many are indeed trying their best to raise their children well.

Type 1: Well-Meaning-But-Neglected-Themselves Parents (WMBNT)

  • Permissive
  • Workaholic
  • Achievement/Perfection 

There are a variety of different ways that well-meaning parents can accidentally neutralize their children’s emotions. They can fail to set enough limits or deliver enough consequences (Permissive), they can work long hours, inadvertently viewing material wealth as a form of parental love (Workaholic), or they can overemphasize their child’s accomplishment and success at the cost of his happiness (Achievement/Perfection).

What makes these parents qualify for Well-Meaning Category 1 status? They think that they are doing what’s best for their children. They are acting out of love, not out of self-interest. Most are simply raising their children the way they themselves were raised. They were raised by parents who were blind to their emotions, so they grew up with the same emotional blind spot that their own parents had. Blind to their children’s emotions, they pass the neglect down, completely unaware that they are doing so.

Children of WMBNT parents generally grow into adulthood with heavy doses of three things: all the symptoms of CEN, a great deal of confusion about where those symptoms came from, and a wagonload of self-blame and guilt. That’s because when, as an adult, you look back at your childhood for an explanation for your problems, you often see a benign-looking one. Everything you can remember may seem absolutely normal and fine. You remember what your well-meaning parents gave you, but you cannot recall what your parents failed to give you.

“It must be me. I’m flawed,” you decide. You blame yourself for what is not right in your adult life. You feel guilty for the seemingly irrational anger that you sometimes have at your well-meaning parents. You also struggle with a lack of emotion skills, unless you have taught them to yourself throughout your life since you had no opportunity to learn them in childhood.

6 Signs To Look For

  • You love your parents and are surprised by the inexplicable anger you sometimes have toward them.
  • You feel confused about your feelings about your parents.
  • You feel guilty for being angry at them.
  • Being with your parents is boring.
  • Your parents don’t see or know the real you, as you are today.
  • You know that your parents love you, but you don’t necessarily feel it.

Type 2: Struggling Parents

  • Caring for a Special Needs Family Member
  • Bereaved, Divorced or Widowed
  • Child as Parent
  • Depressed

Struggling parents emotionally neglect their child because they are so taken up with coping that there is little time, attention or energy left over to notice what their child is feeling or struggling with. Whether bereaved, hurting, depressed or ill, these parents would likely parent much more attentively if only they had the bandwidth to do so.

But these parents couldn’t, so they didn’t. They didn’t notice your feelings enough, and they didn’t respond to your feelings enough. Although the reasons for their failure are actually irrelevant, you have not yet realized this yet. You look back and see a struggling parent who loved you and tried hard, and you find it impossible to hold her accountable.

Children of struggling parents often grow up to be self-sufficient to the extreme and to blame themselves for their adult struggles.

4 Signs To Look For

  • You have great empathy toward your parents, and a strong wish to help or take care of them.
  • You are grateful for all your parents have done for you, and can’t understand why you sometimes feel an inexplicable anger toward them.
  • You have an excessive focus on taking care of other people’s needs, often to your own detriment.
  • Your parents are not harsh or emotionally injurious toward you.

Type 3: Self-Involved Parents

  • Narcissistic
  • Authoritarian
  • Addicted
  • Sociopathic

This category stands out from the other two for two important reasons. The first: self-involved parents are not necessarily motivated by what is best for their child. They are, instead, motivated to gain something for themselves. The second is that many parents in this category can be quite harsh in ways that do damage to the child on top of the Emotional Neglect.

The narcissistic parent wants his child to help him feel special. The authoritarian parent wants respect, at all costs. The addicted parent may not be selfish at heart, but due to her addiction, is driven by a need for her substance of choice. The sociopathic parent wants only two things: power and control. 

Not surprisingly, Category 3 is the most difficult one for most children to see or accept. No one wants to believe that his parents were, and are, out for themselves.

Being raised by Category 3 parents is only easier than the other two categories in one way: typically, you can see that something was (and is) wrong with your parents. You can remember their various mistreatments or harsh or controlling acts so you may be more understanding of the reasons you have problems in your adult life. You may be less prone to blame yourself.

7 Signs To Look For

  • You often feel anxious before seeing your parents.
  • You often find yourself hurt when you’re with your parents.
  • It’s not unusual for you to get physically sick right before, during, or after seeing your parents.
  • You have significant anger at your parents.
  • Your relationship with them feels false, or fake.
  • It’s hard to predict whether your parents will behave in a loving or rejecting way toward you from one moment to the next.
  • Sometimes your parents seem to be playing games with you or manipulating you, or maybe even trying to purposely hurt you.

Stop Overindulging Your Children

Advice on how to meet all their needs, but not all their wants.

SOURCE:  Adapted from Raising Unselfish Children in a Self-Absorbed World by Jill Rigby/Family Life

What do your children really need from you? Love, guidance, shelter, food, clothing, medical care, and an education.

That’s it.

Everything else is a want, a luxury: video games, gadgets, phones, the latest fashion—whatever new item their friends have.

Today, far too many parents fall for the “nag factor.” They know their kids are bombarded by ads telling them to buy certain products and that many parents are buying those products for their children. They know the pressure that comes from their children’s peers, and so they buy their kids far more “stuff” than they can even use, all in the hope that their children will fit in and be accepted by their peers.

According to a recent survey of youth commissioned by the Center for a New American Dream, the average 12- to 17-year-old who asks a parent for products will ask nine times until the parents finally give in. For parents of tweens, the problem is particularly severe—more than 10 percent of 12- to 13-year-olds admit to asking their parents more than 50 times for products they’ve seen advertised. Kids have learned if they nag enough for long enough, parents will give in.

Parents, stop falling for the nag factor.

Refuse to overindulge your kids

Sadly, our self-absorbed society has told parents to help their kids feel good about themselves, that it’s the parents’ duty to make their children happy. But underneath it all, kids don’t need parents who make them happy. They need parents who will make them capable.

Dr. Connie Dawson, co-author of How Much Is Enough, writes:

When parents give children too much stuff that costs money, do things for children that they can do for themselves, do not expect children to do chores, do not have good rules, and let children run the family, parents are overindulging.

Here are some other signs of overindulgence. As you read them, watch for your weak spot:

1. Giving them things or experiences that are not appropriate for their age or their interests:

  • Allowing a 5-year-old to dress like a pop star.
  • Allowing a 12-year-old to watch an R-rated movie.
  • Removing curfew from a 16-year-old with a new driver’s license.

2. Giving things to meet the adult’s needs, not the child’s:

  • A mom buying her daughter the trendiest clothes, because Mom believes it’s a reflection on her own style.
  • A dad giving his son the “stand out” wheels at 16, so Dad’s friends—as well as his son’s friends—will think he’s “the man.”
  • A parent giving his or her children the best of the best in order to make the parent look successful.

3. Neglecting to teach children the life skills they need to survive in the “real” world beyond their home:

  • Tying shoes and dressing 4-year-olds who are perfectly capable of dressing themselves.
  • Doing the laundry for teenagers who are more than capable and need to learn to do it for themselves.

I admit that I slipped into overindulgence in raising my sons in more than one area. It’s important to realize the harm this can do to our children. According to one study conducted in 2001, children who are overindulged are more likely to grow up to believe the following:

  • It is difficult to be happy unless one looks good, is intelligent, rich, and creative.
  • My happiness depends on most people I know liking me.
  • If I fail partly, it is as bad as being a total failure.
  • I can’t be happy if I miss out on many of the good things in life.
  • Being alone leads to unhappiness.
  • If someone disagrees with me, it probably indicates that the person doesn’t like me.
  • My happiness depends more on other people than it depends on me.
  • If I fail at my work, I consider myself a failure as a person.

So, for the sake of your children, stop overindulging them.

Instead, teach them the difference between a need and a want, and then make them work for their wants. For instance, rather than buying that new video game for your children, give them two options: Tell them they can place it on a wish list for a birthday or Christmas present, or they can do extra duties to earn the money to buy it themselves. If your children are willing to work for their “heart’s desire,” they’ll take better care of it, be more grateful for it, and think long and hard before turning a “want” into a “need” in the future.

Repairing the damage of overindulgence

Parents, you can begin to remedy the damage done by overindulgence by doing two things:

1. Help your kids cultivate patience. The truth is parents often prevent their children from learning patience. We’ve gotten just as caught up in our fast-food society as anyone else. We’ve forgotten that real life problems aren’t solved in 15 minutes, that it takes time to find solutions to everyday struggles. We’re the ones who try to speed things up for our kids.

So don’t be so quick to solve your children’s problems for them. A bit of a struggle is good for them.

2. Give children opportunities to develop responsibility and to feel valuable. Your children need your help if they are going to learn necessary life skills. They need you to give them regular chores or duties and to hold them accountable for taking care of those duties. In so doing, you will help your children become adults, not just grown-ups.

All children will at times engage in a power struggle when it comes to carrying out chores or duties. But if parents give in and don’t assign age-appropriate duties for their children, their kids will grow up to be irresponsible, which is heartbreaking for the parent and tragic for the children. No matter the age of the child, any duties you assign them should encompass these purposes:

  • Helping your child learn life skills.
  • Helping your child become a valuable member of the family.
  • Helping your child become a valuable member of society.

By giving your children opportunities to help and serve each other within the family, you’re preparing them to take care of themselves and go out and serve society.

Now that I’ve asked you not to overindulge your kids with their wants, I want to encourage you to overindulge them with love, real love. Love that molds and shapes them into the young men and women they are meant to become. Patiently help them develop patience, and with persistence and persuasion give them age-appropriate responsibilities. As you do these things, you’ll be preparing their hearts and minds to accept the responsibilities God has planned for them.


Adapted from Raising Unselfish Children in a Self-Absorbed World by Jill Rigby. Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Copyright ©2008, Jill Rigby. 

Parenting: Making “Getting Ready For School” Work

SOURCE:  Prepare-Enrich

First-day Blues

It’s 7:00 AM on the first day of school for your kindergartner. She is sound asleep, it’s still dark outside and you have to wake her up to prepare her and yourself for the adventure this day will surely bring.

You’re anxious. Let’s face it; you are terrified to let your baby leave your sight. She is not getting out of bed as fast as you would like and even though she picked out her outfit for the day, the weather changed overnight and you clearly cannot send her to school in shorts and sandals.

She finally awakes, and much to your surprise, she isn’t hungry for breakfast; you can’t let her leave the house on an empty stomach. You’ve read all the studies about fueling the brain and body. In typical childlike fashion, you can see the temper tantrum that will erupt and the tears that will certainly follow.

What is that noise? Is the bus at the curb already? Oh no, you wanted to take a picture of her stepping up to the bus waiving back at us with her cute, smiling face.

Drat! We missed the bus!

Time to pack up the car. You drive your child to school late, hungry, cold, and with a red nose and swollen eyes from crying. You are a wreck and now you have to go to your job.

That first day of school commemorative picture of her will not be anyone’s fondest memory.

But wait – it doesn’t have to be like this.

Here are some helpful ideas to make getting ready for school a win-win for all whether it’s the first day or well into the semester.

Do whatever you can the night before:

Plan out two outfits, using the weather forecast as your guideline (maybe even special new jammies the night before the first day of kindergarten).

Provide a special bed time snack, along with a bedtime story. No scary stories on this night.

Offer, then plan to serve healthy breakfast items – ones that can be easily prepared in the morning. Check and then re-check the backpack.

The week before school starts, set an alarm a tad earlier than usual to get her used to the fact that it may be dark when the alarm goes off.

After that first day of school, talk about what you both can do to get ready for the next morning. You might have her help you make a “getting ready for school” chart to hang on the fridge or place on her bedroom door or bathroom mirror. Include all the tasks, step-by-step.

Have a Family Meeting

Family meetings are beneficial in times of change, such as the first day of school.  There are many websites devoted to the idea of family meetings with content to guide you.  Use your planned family meeting ideas life-long.

Need some help deciding the format for a family meeting?  This is how we, at PREPARE/ENRICH, define a family meeting:

A family meeting is a time for all family members to get together and to share and re-connect with each other.  Spend­ing time together helps family members feel supported and it can become an important family ritual.

Guidelines:

Includes all family members who are old enough participate.

Establish a regular time and place when the entire family is together, such as after a family meal.

Encourage discussion by everyone. Do not criticize and critique.

Allow the speaker to finish their thought before offering your comments, observations or input.

Ice Breaker Questions: (use age-appropriate terminology)

What do you feel was the best thing that happened to you or our family today (this week or recently)?

What was the worst thing that happened to you or our family this week?   What could we have done differently to resolve the issue?

Have conversations that encourage, support, and offer solutions. You might be surprised at how close you become as a family on many levels at any age for any of the daily issues that surface.

Unfortunately, your job as a parent is to prepare her to leave you. Start her off with the best possible skill set, because before you know it she will be grown and out of the house – on her way to an adventure of her own.

Lastly, remember to celebrate your accomplishments.  For your first family meeting, go out for ice cream!

How to Avoid Raising Codependent Kids

SOURCE:  MARK MERRILL

Shielding kids from consequences can have long-term consequences for parents. Take, for instance, my friend’s brother Bill. It started small when Bill was in first grade. Mom would do his chores so Bill wouldn’t get in trouble with Dad. Quickly, it moved to homework cover-ups and graduated to Mom covering when he skipped school; Dad lying to the police when he wrecked a car he didn’t have permission to drive, and increasingly large financial defaults. By the time Mom and Dad let Bill move back home after failing college (no questions asked), he felt entitled to every bailout that came his way. The bailouts just kept getting bigger, including $50,000 in a failed real estate venture.

We’re all concerned about keeping our kids safe and happy. But we raise our children to fly, not flop around the nest as the product of enabling parents. One day, we’re going to have to let go and, when we do, it’s a good idea to make sure they’re equipped and ready. If you want to avoid raising codependent kids, follow these 5 things early and often.

1. Expect more of them:

We all tend to rise to the level of expectation. A two-year-old can learn to pick up toys. A three-year-old can help to set the table. A four-year-old can take dirty clothes to the laundry room and learn how to operate the machine. The more, and the earlier, we train children to contribute, the more self-reliance will become a part of their DNA.

2. Allow (managed) natural consequences:

Typically, there is no better learning tool than to experience the consequence of behavior. A five-year-old refuses to clean up the toys in the middle of the floor? The toys visit the attic for a prescribed amount of time. A ten-year-old curses? Get a dictionary, then handwrite five acceptable words that mean the same thing, plus their complete definitions. Establish a direct line between behavior and a real-world result.

3. Be consistent:

Mom and Dad need to be on the same page because learning thrives where children know what to expect. When children understand that what they do or do not do makes a consistent and measurable difference in the quality of their life, they will become more likely to accept responsibility for themselves and work to impact the outcome more favorably.

4. Be clear:

Leave no doubt as to the outcome when encouraging children to accept responsibility. Then having made ourselves clear, we need to follow through. This is why it’s important not to threaten beyond our willingness to enforce. If we say, for example, “If you do that again, I will take away your phone for a month,” but then only take it away for one day, we have created a problem.

5. Trust them:

Having made ourselves clear, we must demonstrate trust by getting out of the way. We can’t expect a child to grow if we treat them as if they are incapable of doing what we ask. When they succeed, we congratulate. If they fail, we follow through on consequences because we believe they could have done better.

Parenting Means Wrestling Demons

SOURCE:  DesiringGod · by Jonathan Parnell

I nudged the door open with my shoulder, hands holding carryout (again). I made my way through the dark living room and set dinner on the table. I could hear the kids playing in the basement as I peeked into the bedroom to find my wife lying there, doubled over with nausea. She felt too sick to think about eating, not to mention preparing food for the rest of us, and so for the fourth time in as many nights, dad was dishing dinner for the fam.

This is how it goes in wartime, and for a few months now at our house, we’ve been in the battle zone. My wife is pregnant with our fifth child.

As many mothers could attest, sometimes it’s not so much morning sickness as just plain sickness. She hasn’t felt well since the newest member of our family came into existence at the end of last year. But it’s okay — we get it. It comes with the territory. Nausea, in fact, is just one piece of the larger struggle. We’ve learned by now that wrestling demons isn’t supposed to be easy.

Satan Hates the Little Children of the World

In his book Adopted for Life, Russell Moore says that Satan hates children and always has. History would say the same. In Scripture alone, we see the slaughter of the infants in Pharaoh’s Egypt and Herod’s Bethlehem. Every time the demonic powers forcefully oppose Jesus, “babies are caught in the crossfire.” Moore explains,

Whether through political machinations such as those of Pharaoh and Herod, through military conquests in which bloodthirsty armies rip babies from pregnant mothers’ wombs (Amos 1:13), or through the more “routine” seeming family disintegration and family chaos, children are always hurt. Human history is riddled with their corpses. (63)

“There is a war on children, and we are all, in one way or another, playing some role in it.”

Whether we look back over the pages of world history, or just around us today, the point bears true. Children are so often caught in the crossfire, so often hurt, so often the victims of a larger conflict in which they have no say, no influence, no responsibility. It happened back when primitive peoples thought slaying their children would appease the gods, and when war meant burning homes and sacking villages. And it happens still today when deranged citizens carry guns into elementary schools, or when abortion clinics welcome terrified teenagers with open arms, or when Boko Haram pillages another Nigerian village, or a young couple decides Down syndrome will disrupt their life plans. Moore writes,

The demonic powers hate babies because they hate Jesus. When they destroy “the least of these” (Matthew 25:4045), the most vulnerable among us, they’re destroying a picture of Jesus himself. (63–64)

There is a war on children, and we are all, in one way or another, playing some role in it. Every time we move forward as faithful parents (or care for kids in any capacity, including advocating for the voiceless not-yet-born, and volunteering for nursery duty on Sundays), we are wrestling demons — because there is little the demons hate more than little children.

The Shift in Perspective

This calls for a shift in our perspective as parents. If we go into the work of parenting with a Precious Moments romanticism, it won’t be long before despair sets in. It’s just too hard if we think it’s going to be easy. It’s essential to know, especially when the going gets tough, that we are fighting hell.

When we begin to see our parenting through the lens of spiritual warfare, it reconfigures our work in at least five important ways.

1. We are more surprised when things go well than when they go badly.

You thought parenting would be easier than it is. Yes, you did. So much of this has to do with how the role of children has changed in our society. In past generations, children were mainly born into three contexts: (1) economic necessity (more hands on the farm!), (2) moral obligation (Christian influence), and (3) customary structure (part of the American Dream) (Jennifer Senior, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting).

Today, however, child labor is taboo, the church’s voice has waned, and the American Dream has increasingly become the celebration of the self-made successes of unconventional entrepreneurs. The “necessity” for children is not as intense as it once was — though children are obviously still being born. The question then becomes why. Into what context and mindset are American children being born in the twenty-first century?

Jennifer Senior says that today, rather than understood as necessary, children are more often viewed as a high-valued commodity. She explains,

[Parents] approach child-rearing with the same bold sense of independence and individuality that they would any other ambitious life project. . . . Because so many of us are now avid volunteers for a project in which we were all once dutiful conscripts, we have heightened expectations of what children will do for us, regarding them as sources of existential fulfillment rather than as ordinary parts of our lives. (emphasis added)

In other words, as a commodity, the majority of society says that children exist to make us happy, to boost our egos, to procure pats on the back by the watching world. We have children because we think children will make our lives better.

“It’s essential to know, especially when the going gets tough, that we are fighting hell.”

But if we push our strollers with these ideals in tote, we’re not quite sure what to do when things go sideways — like when our kids pee on the floor while we’re grocery shopping, or refuse to stay in their beds at night, or spray air freshener in their eyes after they broke into the bathroom cabinet, or when, in a much more serious event, the ultrasound discloses an abnormality.

None of these things is “fulfilling.”

Actually, these things are hard — they make our heads ache, and our hearts. And so we get angry about the circumstances, and we huff and puff that our children don’t obey everything we say — all because we had the mixed up expectation that they would.

But if we understand that spiritual warfare is taking place, we may not run as quickly from their rudeness, or at least not in the same way. Having expected it, we may enter into it with correction and kindness. We may not be annoyed that she took a swing at her sister; rather, we may be shocked that she shared her Skittles. When we know we’re wrestling demons, disobedience doesn’t surprise so much as obedience does.

2. We appreciate nuance in parenting strategies.

The spiritual warfare at work in parenting means that this is complicated work — much more complicated than the blanket approach of so many parenting models. There are so many moving parts in every family context, not to mention the differences in children. It is silly that we’d think there is a one-size-fits-all approach for how the details should go every time. Parenting models that suggest otherwise are full of reductionisms and overreactions, whether that means always letting the baby cry it out or always having them in the bed with mom and dad. When we seize onto one model over another, we are adopting its pros and its cons (which every system has) — and worse, we are often sucked into a tribal mentality that vilifies parents who do it differently than us.

Parenting is hard enough. We are wrestling demons. Rather than being a mindless evangelist for a certain model, offer help and your experience when you’re asked, and consider backing off when you’re not.

3. We understand the danger of the other extreme.

The knee-jerk response to the demonic message that children are worthless is to mistake children as everything. This response swings so far in the opposite direction of misopedia (the hatred of children) that we actually begin to worship children. This is when children become almost more than human, even angelic. Rather than seeing them as an interruption to our plans, or as an inconvenience to our priorities, we fall off the other side and make them the center of our worlds. This is part of a societal shift that started in the late twentieth century. Jennifer Senior comments, “Children stopped working, and parents worked twice as hard. Children went from being our employees to our bosses.”

When we see parenting in the context of spiritual warfare, we understand that the enemy has more than one way to wreak havoc. As hard as it may be to swallow, we learn that demons also take pleasure in those homes that are run by children, especially children whose hearts are so shriveled by selfishness and pandering that they lack any category of seeing themselves as sinners in need of a Savior.

4. We see children as gifts from God, not mistakes or idols.

Children are a blessing from God (Psalm 127:35). The implications of this truth are gloriously vast, including, first, that children are never mistakes and, second, that they’re never the object of our worship.

“Banish from your vocabulary the talk of your children being a ‘mistake.’ They’re not. They can’t be.”

Banish from your vocabulary the talk of junior being a “mistake.” He’s not. He can’t be. He’s no more a mistake than a college degree, a promotion at work, or your spouse saying “I do.” These are blessings. Blessings, not mistakes — and therefore, let’s call them that. Blessings, after all, are not so cookie-cutter. We understand that sometimes in God’s economy, blessings are not served on a silver platter. They are good — wonderfully good — but it’s not a microwavable good. It’s more like the long, tireless trek up a mountain, the kind that makes you stop and question whether you’ll actually make it but, when you do, fills you with a deep contentment only possible at the altitude in which you stand.

That kind of blessing is not a mistake, but neither is it an idol. If we put our children on the throne of our hearts, the clock is ticking before everything blows up. That is because idols are always a cover-up for self-worship. When children become our idols, it means they become the means to our meaning. The sad thing about the dad who won’t get off his son’s back at football practice is that the dad’s significance is so bound up in the success of his son that he can’t imagine failure. Under the guise of loving his son, he actually creates unbearable pressure and is using his son for his own advantage. Everyone loses.

Neither mistakes nor idols, our children are gifts — blessings for which to be thankful, and of which we are called to be stewards.

5. We know that God is in the fight on our side.

Once a crowd of people came to Jesus with their children. They had hoped that, upon seeing them, Jesus would lay his hands on the children and pray. The associates of Jesus, however, rebuked the people. The Master doesn’t have time for kids. They’re too beneath him. Get them out of here.

It’s not as harsh as it sounds. We might even have done the same.

But Jesus speaks the corrective word: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). And then, as Matthew tells us, “he laid his hands on them” (Matthew 19:15).

“In a beautiful way we can’t quite fathom, Jesus loves our children more than we do.”

When Jesus did this, both for his day and for our own, he marked himself as an advocate for children. Let the little children come to me. This means, in a beautiful way we can’t quite fathom, that Jesus loves your children more than you do.

It means, as God has told us in his word, that he is for the youngest and frailest among us. It means that he is in this fight on our side and has been fighting for years.

It means that when the nausea sets in, or when we’re wrestling the worst of demons, though it’s not easy, we are going to win this battle.

Are You a “Mean Mom”?

SOURCE:  Joanne Kraft/Family Life

The definition of the word mean is to be unkind or malicious. But a good mean mom defines the word quite a bit differently.

Call me crazy, but moms are becoming nicer. There used to be a time when kids could spend hours regaling one another with mean mom stories. I know it used to be a favorite pastime of mine.

“My mom is the meanest. Listen to this …” I brushed aside my big ‘80s feathered hair for emphasis. “She wouldn’t let me come over today until after my homework was finished and after I cleaned the kitchen,” I complained to my girlfriend.

“If you think your mom is mean, Joanne, listen to this one …”

Legendary stories have gathered over time—too many to recount. My parenting style has been molded and shaped by them. As far as I was concerned, my mom was the meanest of all. She wanted to know who my friends were and what I was watching on TV. She upheld curfews, expected me to do well in school, and paid close attention to what I wore.

Mean mom flashback

I was hoping to slip out the front door before my parents caught a glimpse of my outfit. I was a typical 16-year-old, and I just knew they wouldn’t be able to hear the whisper of “cool” announcing my presence. Nor would they understand that my black stretch pants made a statement.

Unfortunately, I had never learned the art of Navy SEAL stealth operations, and my mom intercepted my exit. “Sweetheart, what are you wearing?”

Questions asking the obvious are the bane of every teenager’s existence. “Black pants,” I blurted, searching for an escape route.

“Those are not black pants. Those are skintight.” She called for backup. “George!”

Dad is a former U.S. Marine, so I knew he would be up for a battle. I would lose this skirmish. Mom would make sure of it.

“What in the world are those?” He looked down at my legs, his face scrunched up as if he were in the presence of something extraterrestrial.

My earlier confidence squeaked out as a pathetic question hoping for approval. “Black pants?”

With Dad as her wingman, my one-and-only “mean mom” began her rant: “No daughter of mine …”

Yep, here we go. The “no daughter of mine” speech.

As you can imagine, my response was predictable. I stomped off to my room and whimpered over my shoulder, “Mom. You are so mean!” Needless to say, I never left the house in those skintight stretch pants.

Fast-forward 30 years. Yesterday, while at church, this memory came rushing back. The beautiful young singer on stage seemed to have discovered my thigh-strangling pants from my teenage years. Her parents are apparently much nicer than mine and let her leave the house.

I debated with myself, Poor thing. Does she realize how skintight those are? Is that what I looked like 30 years ago? Stop it, Joanne, you’re being old-fashioned. Those pants are in style again.

My thoughts were interrupted by my extremely cool 17-year-old son. Right in the middle of a worship song, he leaned down and whispered to my ear, “That girl should not be wearing those pants.” Once again, confirmation that my very own mean mom had been right.

What does “mean” really mean?

The definition of the word mean is to be unkind or malicious. Though you might cringe at being defined this way, it’s exactly how your children feel you are behaving when you keep them from what they want, enforce daily chores, or thwart their Friday night plans.

This is the moment the parent-child language barrier begins. You see, a mean mom defines the word mean quite a bit differently.

  • A mean mom keeps her word when it’s hard.
  • A mean mom gives, models, and expects respect.
  • A mean mom knows her child’s friends and where they live.
  • A mean mom instills dinner times, bedtimes, and curfews.
  • A mean mom treads water longer than her child can make it rain.
  • A mean mom never makes excuses for her child’s strengths or weaknesses.
  • A mean mom doesn’t let her own fears overrule her child’s freedoms.
  • A mean mom sees the adult her child can be and inspires until he or she catches the vision.
  • A mean mom asks for forgiveness for her mistakes.
  • A mean mom loves passionately, encourages openly, and behaves righteously.
  • And if she’s married a mean mom puts her husband before her child.

In the context of mean mom, the word mean can be defined much differently between mom and child. So begins the expansion of that communication gap you’ve heard about. What a son or daughter sees as malicious or unkind, a mean mom sees as keeping protective boundaries and inspiring good character traits, so she makes no excuses for uncomfortable situations that are fueled by a loving boundary.

Children don’t understand boundaries as being helpful or for their lasting good. Their minds can’t wrap around anything more than their immediate wants and needs at this very nanosecond. This is where mean moms dig in and remember they are training each little one to overcome obstacles, never quit, and never, ever give up.

A mean mom’s mission statement is this: I’m not raising a child. I’m raising an adult. This mission statement becomes her mantra and reminds her of the ultimate goal: to work herself out of a job.

The wrong kind of mean

When I shared my idea of a mean mom book with a friend, she expressed concern, “My mom was incredibly mean. Not the mean you’re talking about. She was so disciplined and hurtful. The scars she’s left affect me still. She’s the reason I’m such a pushover with my girls today. I tend to be a marshmallow mom. I know I need to be better at keeping boundaries, but I’m so afraid I’ll become like my mother that I cave every time. I don’t want my kids to hate me like I hated my mom.”

It’s sadly true. There are moms who have a genetic mean streak. Oftentimes victims of their own parents’ physical or emotional abuse, they pass on discouragement and warped parenting disciplines that mold their children in painful ways.

Let me be very clear here. This is not the kind of mean I’m talking about. The mean mom I’m talking about loves her children more than she disciplines them. Joy is what permeates her home, and faith is the foundation and the groundwork she is laying.

Even when a mother is kind, caring, and understanding, she looks mean to her children when she lays down a boundary or rule. What is considered mean in the eyes of a 4-year-old is considered wise in the eyes of a 40-year-old. This is the kind of mean I mean.

“To tell you the truth …”

Ask most adults over the age of 30 if their parents were mean, and you’ll get lots of different answers. I posed this very question to my girlfriend.

“Yes, I thought my mom was very mean.” Gina, a mother of two, answered the question as she cut my hair. “She wouldn’t let me stay out late at night and needed to know my friends’ first and last names. But, to tell you the truth …” She stopped snipping and held her scissors midair. “I don’t think she was mean enough.” A tiny smile etched my face. “She was actually pretty naïve. She should’ve been meaner.”

———————————————————————————————–

Adapted from The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids by Joanne Kraft. Published by Leafwood Publishers, copyright ©2015.

Adult Children: Praying for Your Prodigal

SOURCE:  Jodi Berndt from Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children

I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord. They will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with all their heart. — Jeremiah 24:7

Lauren stared at the photo on her phone, barely comprehending what she saw. It was a picture of her son, William, lying in a hospital bed, his head wrapped in a bloody bandage. He had been assaulted in what he said was a random robbery, and Lauren wanted to believe him. Given what they knew about their son’s current lifestyle, she didn’t know what to think.

Lauren and her husband, Mike, had been lukewarm about William’s plan to move to Chicago when he graduated from college. They understood why a guy from a small town in Alabama would want to spread his wings, but his idea — to launch a neighborhood-based classified-ad service to sell things like used furniture, cars, and household goods — sounded iffy. William had majored in business, but he knew very little about technology and even less about Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods. But after a six-month job search closer to home turned up nothing, she and Mike had gotten William a plane ticket and wished him well. Their son was hardworking, creative, and intelligent, so who knew? Maybe he’d be one of the success stories.

And if not, well, what was the worst that could happen?

Lauren had run through a dozen worst-case scenarios in her mind — maybe the business would flop or William would get sick from the city dirt and noise and pollution — but nothing had prepared her for the sight of her son lying in some unknown hospital, more than six hundred miles away. She wished Mike would get home soon; she needed to talk. An orthopedic surgeon, he was usually at the hospital all day on Thursdays, and she hadn’t been able to reach him.

Lauren thought back over the past several months. William had burned through most of his start-up money, and then in an effort to recoup his losses, he had started gambling. His drinking, which Lauren and Mike had hoped would lessen once he got out of college, had gotten worse. Lauren didn’t know much about William’s friends and business associates, but the words from Proverbs 13:20 kept coming to mind:

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.

Apparently, William had been walking with some fairly serious fools.

When had that started to happen? Lauren didn’t know exactly. William had given his life to the Lord at age twelve, and as he grew, so had his faith. He had been a youth group leader in high school, and when the time came to go to college, he elected to live with a Christian roommate. Lauren and Mike were thrilled when William joined a campus Bible study; surely, the friends and the teaching he’d be exposed to there would help guard him against some of the secular philosophies he would encounter in the classroom.

But things hadn’t turned out that way. Parties, football games, and study sessions with his classmates filled William’s calendar, and he began to drift away from Bible study and other fellowship opportunities. It wasn’t as if some atheist had talked him out of his faith; rather, the shift had come gradually as William spent more time with unbelievers than with his Christian friends. And then, almost as if he was looking for an intellectual reason to account for his behavior, William began to question some of the most basic tenets of his faith. Salvation by grace seemed far too simplistic. And the resurrection? Nothing he learned in any of his science classes made that even a remote possibility; it seemed (as William told his parents during his junior year) to be a story designed to bring comfort and hope to people who would grasp at anything to keep their faith alive. Which was fine for them — just not for him.

Mike and Lauren hadn’t wanted to alienate their son by revealing the depth of their concern or by arguing against some of his claims. Instead, they welcomed William’s questions, pointing him toward authors like Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and C. S. Lewis, apologists whose work they thought might appeal to him on an intellectual level.

“But honestly,” Mike had said, after one of their conversations, “I don’t think he is looking for evidence to support Christianity. I think it’s a moral issue, masquerading as an intellectual one. I think he wants to find a worldview to support his quest for independence and self-sufficiency as he runs away from God, something that will justify his rebellion.”

Prayer Principle

Ask God to work in your prodigal’s mind and spirit, demolishing arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

The kitchen door opened, snapping Lauren’s mind back to the present. It was Mike, home from the hospital where he had been making rounds. Lauren showed him the photo and filled him in on what little she knew.

“He says it’s nothing serious,” she said. “Some guys jumped him when he was walking home from work. He says they took his wallet…”

“Maybe they did,” Mike said, “but we aren’t sending him any more money.”

He picked up the phone and enlarged the photo. “It looks like a good bandage job at least. He’ll be okay.”

Lauren knew Mike wasn’t being callous or insensitive, and that he was hurting just as much as she was. He was just being practical. But for a mom, it wasn’t that easy.

“Mike, I want William to come home,” she said softly.

“I think he should,” Mike agreed, “but we can’t make him do anything. He’s literally living the life of the prodigal son — he got us to give him some money, and then he went away to a distant city and squandered it all in wild living. For all we know, he has been eating with pigs!”

Lauren knew the story Mike was talking about. It was a parable in Luke 15, one Jesus used to illustrate the heavenly Father’s love and the power of redemption. In that story, the son finally comes home, confessing his sins and giving up any claim he had on the family name. “I am no longer worthy to be called your son,” he says. “Make me like one of your hired men.” (Luke 15:19)

Lauren loved that parable — especially the part where the father sees the son in the distance and, throwing dignity to the wind, runs out to embrace his boy in a very public, very emotional reunion. It was perhaps the best illustration she knew of to show how God feels about us, and how utterly ecstatic He is when we acknowledge our own unworthiness and turn to him.

Missing from the story, though, was an account of the prodigal’s mother. Surely, she had longed to hear from her boy, to receive some word that he was at least alive. And certainly, when she heard the sound of his greeting, her heart would have leaped right along with her husband’s. Who knows? She might have even beaten him down the street.

Lauren knew the story wasn’t about a literal, historical family, one with a real mom and dad. But if it had been, Lauren knew one thing for sure: that mama would have been praying.

Prayer Principle

God knows what it’s like to grieve over a prodigal child — and to rejoice over his return.

Listening to Lauren and Mike, I was reminded of any number of similar accounts people shared with me as I worked on this book. Mothers and fathers told me about their kids’ faith; how they’d grown up in the church, attended Christian camps, or gone on mission trips; and read The Chronicles of Narnia at bedtime. These parents, like so many I interviewed, had done everything in their power to produce Christian kids — and sometimes, as one parent put it, “A plus B really did equal C.” But sometimes (a lot of times, actually), it didn’t.

I think my favorite comment came from a mom whose daughter has walked a path no parent would choose for a child. Looking at all of the bad decisions (and tragic consequences) the girl has experienced, and stacking those things up against verses like Genesis 50:20 (“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good”), this sweet mama summed up her perspective like this: “I don’t know what God is doing in my daughter’s life, or why she does the things she does. All I can figure is that she is working on her testimony. And it’s shaping up to be a good one.”

For parents who’ve staked their trust in the Lord (and for those who believe, as author Max Lucado puts it, that “we see a perfect mess; God sees a perfect chance to train, test, and teach”1), the idea that our kids are still “working on their testimonies” is a lifeline to hope. And it’s not just their stories that are still being written; Lauren and Mike don’t know what the future holds for William, but they’d be the first to tell you that his experience has shaped their own spiritual journey in a powerful way.

“We’ve prayed more than ever before,” Lauren told me, “and we’ve learned to wait on God. It’s hard not to let fear and worry cloud the picture, but the more we look into the bright light of God’s love, the more those dark things are obliterated. This trouble has been a gateway for us to get to know God better; our prayer is that it will also be a gateway for William.”

Prayer Principle

The light of God’s love is what scatters the darkness. Tether your prayers to the brightness of His promises.

“We’ve learned that we are completely helpless,” Mike added. “We cannot change or control our kids’ lives; all we can do is trust in a God who has given us great and precious promises.”

Mike is right. We are helpless, at least insofar as it comes to dictating the way our adult children think and behave. Many of them are out of our reach, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

But they are not out of God’s — and He invites us to join Him in the work He is doing, through prayer. We are not helpless there; even when we have no idea how to pray, God has us covered. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness,” Paul writes in Romans 8:26.

We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

——————————————————————————————————————-

Max Lucado, You’ll Get through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times (Nashville: Nelson, 2013), 10.

God’s Broken Family

SOURCE:  Elisa Morgan

It’s tempting to freak out over the fact that our families are broken — to think that if we fix the issues of marriage, money, and faith, we’ll fix the future of our families, and voila! — all will be well. But in reality, broken families are not new. We all come from a broken family because God’s family is broken. The thing is, this isn’t the tragedy we assume. Broken is right where God wants us — and right where He can powerfully reassemble us.

In the beginning, God created man and woman. Adam and Eve were a family, a man and a woman evidencing the image of God in their beings and in their union. But before they even got around to making children, they fell and broke. The original family was a broken family — separated from the very heart of God.

The very first child was born into this broken, messy family.

In the space of the first five chapters of the Bible, man and woman became one, disobeyed God’s only prohibition, and gave birth to two sons, one of whom murdered the other. The result is that by Genesis 6, the inhabitants of the planet were those whose hearts were turned so wholly toward evil that God decided to start over again.

God’s heart broke over His broken family.

The second time around, the results were no better. God started again with one family — this time Noah’s. For forty days and forty nights they did okay together. But once the Flood ended, Noah and his sons lost their footing — and the downfall of the family continued.

  • At the request of his wife, who was impatient for a child, Father Abraham took their slave, Hagar, as his mistress and had an illegitimate heir.
    Jacob married one sister but actually loved — and also married — another.
  • David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then murdered her husband.
  • The prophet Hosea was betrayed by his unfaithful wife, Gomer, yet took her back.

In Scripture, we find families built with love and chastity and families formed from rape and sin. Children born from one father to mothers who were sisters. Children born out of adultery, through prostitution, and into polygamous marriages. Children born to people of humble means and then relinquished through adoption to rulers and royals. And because respect didn’t come naturally to His people, God had to tell them to honor their parents.

That’s just in the Old Testament. The New Testament begins with an unwed — though betrothed — pregnant teenager…

We all come from a broken family and then create another broken family, because all families are broken. Even God’s. In our brokenness, we are just where we need to be. Fractured. Messed up. Sinful. Needy. Redeemable.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Pain makes theologians of us all… Pain is one of the fastest routes to a no-frills encounter with the Holy.”1

There is beauty in the broken.

Our Creator God pants to bring His children into being, and then his heart tears in pain as we run, hide, and reject His love. Our Father God christens us sons and daughters and then releases us to our own stubborn ways but stands in the road, watching and waiting for us to return to Him. Our hereafter God dreams of redemption, when we are restored to His original purposes and put in pleasant places in relationship to Him and to each other.

Humankind is a broken, messy family. And we all come from this broken family. The family broke before it was even completely made. Just as my efforts fell short of fixing the breakage of my first and second families, our efforts will also miss the mark in making families whole and healthy in our broken world.

Think of it this way: If God’s family was and is broken, why do we think ours will be any different?

Isaiah 53 prophesies that healing for the broken will arrive through an unexpected channel: a broken Messiah. In Isaiah 53:2, the coming king is seen as less than lovely. Seemingly no “beauty in the broken” there.

He had no special beauty or form to make us notice Him; there was nothing in His appearance to make us desire Him.

My pastor, Robert Gelinas, compared the beauty of Jesus to that of Fiona in Shrek. There was beauty in the princess, but it wasn’t revealed until she became an ogre, revealing to Shrek and others her beauty from within.2

The beautification of brokenness appears as God’s despised man of sorrows takes our infirmities upon himself. Isaiah 53:5 underlines God’s provision for the broken heart, the broken soul, the broken human, and yes, the broken family.

But He was wounded for the wrong we did; He was crushed for the evil we did. The punishment, which made us well, was given to Him, and we are healed because of His wounds.

The word “wounded” in this verse actually refers to bruises — black and blue marks created by broken blood vessels.And the word “healed” comes from a root meaning “mended, repaired, thoroughly made whole — spiritually forgiven.”4 By His broken blood vessels that resulted in black and blue blotches we are made thoroughly whole.

Somewhere along my journey from my first broken family to my second broken family, I began to understand that the brokenness in my first family wasn’t my fault. God led me through the layers of shame and fear to convince me: I had no control over my parents’ choices. I didn’t run my father off. I didn’t force my mother to overdrink. Gently, God led me to the words of 1 John 4:18:

Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love drives out fear. It is punishment that makes a person fear, so love is not made perfect in the person who fears.

I realized that I did not need to fear because Jesus had already endured any punishment I might face. We are healed because of His wounds.

Hear me well: the brokenness inflicted on you in your first family is not your fault.

The years passed and I mothered my second family. In spite of my imperfect, broken places, gradually I faced the reality that God did not evaluate my mothering by how perfectly or imperfectly my children developed. Rather, He expected me to address how I influenced my children by how yielded to His love for me and then acted it out in life. Period. He did not ask me to control their responses, their choices, or their consequences. I could throw my body over the potholes in their path, and they might or might not heed my warnings. I could not fix my family — my first family or my second — any more than I could fix myself. I was broken. They were broken. I was to offer myself to God and to allow Him to use my best, but still flawed, mothering to shape their development.

By His wounds we are healed.

While the brokenness you experienced in your first family is not your fault — remember that — there may be elements of brokenness in your first or second family that you are responsible for. If so, say so. It is up to you to take responsibility to right the wrongs and move toward healing. I’ve had to go to each of my children and my husband and confess my overparenting, my fear, my judgment, my inadequacy. At times the list of my failings has been so long that there was no gathering it up in my arms. I dragged it about behind me like a length of toilet paper stuck to my shoe. Humiliating, but necessary to notice and shake away.

Jesus alone has the power to heal the broken. Jesus alone has the power to save the lost. It’s by His wounds that we find healing. Broken families find healing as the broken people within them admit their brokenness and yield personally to God’s healing power. Rather than praying, “Make my family whole,” we pray, “Make me whole.”

When we are broken, we are exactly where God wants us.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. — Matthew 5:3 NIV

When we are broken we are bankrupt. When we are bankrupt we are dependent. When we are dependent we are done with ourselves and open to God.

Crazy thing here: we tend to view our fallings as grounds for disqualification from meaningful ministry, from lasting relationships, from worthy contributions to our world — when exactly the opposite is true. When we fall and then turn to God for the hope and help he alone offers us, we can actually become more qualified for fuller living. Our brokenness makes us more able to invest in the lives of those around us as we bring God’s healing of us to our relating to them.

Make your way through the pages of Scripture and you’ll see human after human used more mightily after a fall than before. Abraham. Moses. Rahab. David. Ruth. Jonah. Peter. Mark. Paul.

There’s no such thing as a perfect family. Yet hope emerges through understanding that the broken family is anything but an unredeemable reality. Compassion comes as we understand that all of us — every one of us — is birthed forth from God’s broken family. As we embrace our own need for mercy, we can extend grace to others. While vibrant and full of life, the healthy family of today is also gritty and real, a place where assembly and even reassembly is required. When we are broken, we are right where we need to be before God. And where we need to stay.

There is beauty in the broken.
————————————————————————————————
Excerpted from The Beauty of Broken by Elisa Morgan

Parental Conflict Can Cause Lasting Emotional Damage to Kids

SOURCE:  Traci Pedersen/PsychCentral

Children who regularly witness parental conflict may be sustaining lasting harm to their emotional processing abilities, potentially becoming overvigilant, anxious and vulnerable to misreading even neutral human interactions, according to a new study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

The findings are particularly strong for children who are naturally shy and sensitive.

“The message is clear: even low-level adversity like parental conflict isn’t good for kids,” said Dr. Alice Schermerhorn, an assistant professor in the University of Vermont’s Department of Psychological Sciences and the lead author of the study.

In the study, 99 children (aged 9 to 11) were divided into two groups based on their scores from psychological tests which assessed how much parental conflict they experienced and how much they felt the conflict threatened their parents’ marriage.

Next, the children looked at a series of photographs of couples engaged in happy, angry or neutral interactions and asked to choose which category the photos fit.

Most of the children from the low-conflict homes consistently scored the photos accurately. However, children from high-conflict homes were only able to accurately identify the happy and angry couples, not those in neutral poses. These children would incorrectly perceive the neutral photos as either angry or happy, or they would say they didn’t know which category they fit into.

According to the researchers. one possible reason for the inability of those in the high-conflict group to evaluate the neutral photos could be hypervigilance. “If their perception of conflict and threat leads children to be vigilant for signs of trouble, that could lead them to interpret neutral expressions as angry ones or may simply present greater processing challenges,” said Schermerhorn.

Alternatively, it could be that neutral parental interactions may be less significant for children who feel threatened by their parents’ conflict.

“They may be more tuned into angry interactions, which could be a cue for them to retreat to their room, or happy ones, which could signal that their parents are available to them,” she said. “Neutral interactions don’t offer much information, so they may not value them or learn to recognize them.”

The study also reveals the impact of shyness on the children’s ability to process and recognize emotion. The shy children in the study, who were identified via a questionnaire completed by the subjects’ mothers, were unable to correctly identify couples in neutral poses, even if they were not from high-conflict homes.

Shyness made them more vulnerable to parental conflict. Children who were both shy and who also felt threatened by their parents’ conflict were unable to perceive photos of neutral interactions as simply neutral.

“Parents of shy children need to be especially thoughtful about how they express conflict,” Schermerhorn said.

The findings have significant implications, according to Schermerhorn, because they shed light on the impact relatively low-level adversity like parental conflict can have on children’s development. Either of her interpretations for the findings —hypervigilance or not being able to read neutral interactions — could mean trouble for children down the road.

“One the one hand, being overvigilant and anxious can be destabilizing in many different ways,” she said. “On the other, correctly reading neutral interactions may not be important for children who live in high conflict homes, but that gap in their perceptual inventory could be damaging in subsequent experiences with, for example, teachers, peers, and partners in romantic relationships.”

“No one can eliminate conflict altogether,” said Schermerhorn, “but helping children get the message that, even when they argue, parents care about each other and can work things out is important.”

Source: University of Vermont

 

How a Parent’s Affection Shapes a Child’s Happiness for Life

SOURCE:  Sandi Schwartz/Gottman

How often do you hug your children?

We all live busy, stressful lives and have endless concerns as parents, but it is clear that one of the most important things we need to do is to stop and give our kids a big loving squeeze. Research over the past decade highlights the link between affection in childhood and health and happiness in the future.

According to Child Trends – the leading nonprofit research organization in the United States focused on improving the lives and prospects of children, youth, and their families – science supports the idea that warmth and affection expressed by parents to their children results in life-long positive outcomes for those children.

Higher self-esteem, improved academic performance, better parent-child communication, and fewer psychological and behavior problems have been linked to this type of affection. On the other hand, children who do not have affectionate parents tend to have lower sself-esteemand to feel more alienated, hostile, aggressive, and anti-social.

There have been a number of recent studies that highlight the relationship between parental affection and children’s happiness and success.

In 2010, researchers at Duke University Medical School found that babies with very affectionate and attentive mothers grow up to be happier, more resilient, and less anxious adults. The study involved about 500 people who were followed from when they were infants until they were in their 30s. When the babies were eight months old, psychologists observed their mothers’ interactions with them as they took several developmental tests.

The psychologists rated the mother’s affection and attention level on a five-point scale ranging from “negative” to “extravagant.” Nearly 10 percent of the mothers showed low levels of affection, 85 percent demonstrated a normal amount of affection, and about six percent showed high levels of affection.

Then 30 years later, those same individuals were interviewed about their emotional health. The adults whose mothers showed “extravagant” or “caressing” affection were much less likely than the others to feel stressed and anxious. They were also less likely to report hostility, distressing social interactions, and psychosomatic symptoms.

The researchers involved in this study concluded that the hormone oxytocin may be responsible for this effect. Oxytocin is a chemical in the brain released during times when a person feels love and connection. It has been shown to help parents bond with their children, adding a sense of trust and support between them. This bond most likely helps our brain produce and use oxytocin, causing a child to feel more positive emotions.

Next, a 2013 study from UCLA found that unconditional love and affection from a parent can make children emotionally happier and less anxious. This happens because their brain actually changes as a result of the affection. On the other hand, the negative impact of childhood abuse and lack of affection impacts children both mentally and physically. This can lead to all kinds of health and emotional problems throughout their lives. What’s really fascinating is that scientists think parental affection can actually protect individuals against the harmful effects of childhood stress.

Then in 2015, a study out of the University of Notre Dame showed that children who receive affection from their parents were happier as adults. More than 600 adults were surveyed about how they were raised, including how much physical affection they had. The adults who reported receiving more affection in childhood displayed less depression and anxiety and were more compassionate overall. Those who reported less affection struggled with mental health, tended to be more upset in social situations, and were less able to relate to other people’s perspectives.

Researchers have also studied the benefits of skin-to-skin contact for infants. This special interaction between mother and baby, in particular, helps calm babies so they cry less and sleep more. It has also been shown to boost brain development. According to an article in Scientific American, children who lived in a deprived environment like an orphanage had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who lived with their parents. Scientists believe that the lack of physical contact in the orphanages is a major factor in these physical changes.

Finally, numerous studies on the effects of massage show the positive benefits it offers to reduce anxiety in children. Massage is also a good way for parents to connect to their children, both physically and emotionally. Starting in infancy, a parent can begin to massage their child, which can create a strong bond. Studies have shown children and adults who receive massage experience less anxiety during academic stress, hospital stays, and other stressful events.
So, how can you bring more hugs into your family’s day?

From the moment you bring your baby home from the hospital, be sure to hold, touch, and rock them in your arms. Spend many precious moments caressing your baby so that their skin can touch your skin.

As they get older, be playful by doing fun activities like dancing together or creating silly games like pretending to be a hugging or kissing monster.

Set a reminder to make sure hugging is part of your daily routine. In the recent Trolls movie, the Trolls wore watches with alarm clocks that would go off every hour for hug time. If that’s what it takes, then set yourself an alarm. Or make sure to give your kids a hug during certain times of the day, such as before they leave for school, when they get home from school, and before bedtime.

Another interesting idea is to use affection while disciplining your child. As you talk to them about what they did wrong, put your hand on their shoulder and give them a hug at the end of the conversation to ensure them that, even if you are not pleased with their behavior, you still love them. If your children hit their sister or brother, hug them and explain how hugging feels better than hitting.

Finally, be careful not to go overboard and smother your kids. Respect their individual comfort level, and be aware that this will change as they go through different stages.

Why You Should Not Mix Compliments with Criticism

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Several years ago, my son and I had a brief conversation that has really stuck with me.

My Son: “Were you there for the first quarter of my game, Dad? I started!”

Me: “I didn’t get back into town and to the game until the second quarter…but you did great!”

My Son: “Oh.”

Me: “But you really need to start eating better.”

My Son: (Silence)

So, what was wrong with what I said? Well, he understood my flight was late and so I missed the first quarter. And my compliment was good. But, the “but” was the problem. Instead of just praising him for his accomplishment, I criticized him for his eating habits. And that criticism crushed the compliment.

Looking back, I realize that the words I had spoken weren’t the same words my son heard. The moment I said, “But you really need…” what my son heard was, “What you did was good, but not quite good enough.”

So what did I take away from this experience?

First, I learned that compliments should be strong and specific. Saying “great job” or “good work” is a good start when complimenting. But it’s even better to say something like, “I’m so proud that you made the starting team. You persevered and worked really hard to get there.”

Second, I learned that criticism should not be mixed with a compliment. Criticism can be so loud to the listener that he won’t even hear a compliment when they are spoken at the same time.

Third, I learned that it’s important to compliment exponentially more than criticize. Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Giving your child a strong compliment can greatly inspire and propel him forward. Criticizing your child, although necessary at times, can quickly take the wind out of his sail. In a previous post, I shared some things you can do to increase your compliment to criticism ratio.

10 Ways Parents Embarrass Their Teens

SOURCE:  Hayley DiMarco/Family Life Ministry

How to prove to your kids that you’re not weird.

It’s sad but true—most of us will embarrass our kids at some point in our lives. Some relationships will be unaffected, as many teens just shrug off the goofy things parents do, but others will suffer because of your teen’s fear of what you’ll do next, and that’s what’s really at issue here.

If you fit into any of the following categories, please give these ideas some thought. You might want to consider some lifestyle improvements, teen style.

1. Yelling at them in public. If I were going to suggest you change any one thing you’re doing, I’d suggest you change this one. When you yell at your teenager in public, you do a great deal to damage their young hearts and minds. Your goal, I assume, is to raise a confident, successful person, and yelling at them and belittling them in public is a surefire way to create a weak, depressed, and dysfunctional adult.

You usually yell because you feel powerless, and that shows your teenager that you are out of control. So maintain your composure. If you feel like you’re going to explode, you should excuse yourself, take a break, and talk to them when you are more in control.

2. Dressing less than fashionably. This is a hard one. You’re busy; you don’t have time to keep up with all the fashions and shop till you drop. I understand, but if you are still wearing clothes you bought more than 10 years ago, you might just be causing your fashion-conscious teen to blush. It’s true that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and judging appearances is so superficial, but it’s how we think as human beings. Whether you realize it or not, how you dress tells people how you want them to think of you.

3. Trying to be “cool.” A lot of parents hate the fact that they are getting older, and in order to forget it or to hide it, they act like teenagers themselves. Or at least they try. Now, there’s nothing wrong with having a really cool mom or dad. But that means a parent who isn’t embarrassing and who is kind, friendly, non-invasive, and loving. It doesn’t mean a parent who dresses and talks like they’re still 22.

If you find yourself trying to entertain your kid’s friends or spending every weekend with the gang, then perhaps you’re trying too hard to be the kid and not the parent.

4. Being too loud and drawing attention to yourself and them. This is often closely related to wanting to be “cool.” Loud parents are an embarrassment because they are trying to draw all of the attention to themselves. This makes the child feel like they are being either upstaged or humiliated. When you draw attention to yourself by being loud, you are really saying to your child and the world, “It’s all about me! What about me? I need some attention.”

5. Being too affectionate in public. Adolescence is the time when kids are exploring the world. They are learning how to function as individuals, and when you are overly affectionate, you make them feel, and look to their friends, like a little baby. For teens who are learning to grow up and fend for themselves, this is a huge embarrassment. So save the affection for the privacy of your home, and help them make the giant step into adulthood by giving them their space in public.

6. Treating them like a little kid in front of their friends. When your child was a baby, you would wipe their face because they couldn’t do it themselves. But when you do that and other babying-type things now, you make them feel like they aren’t big enough to care for themselves. And as I’ve been saying, this is the time in your child’s life when they need to practice leaving the nest and flying solo. If they can’t take care of themselves now, then how will they ever do it when they are truly out on their own? So control yourself. Resist the urge to treat them like they are a kid in front of their friends.

7. Grilling their girlfriend or boyfriend—This one is totally understandable. When your teenager has a date, it’s good for you to know who they are dating. I don’t want to tell you not to do this, but it can really embarrass your teenager. Frankly, I think it’s something they’re just going to have to learn to live with, although there might be ways of doing it that are, say, more sympathetic than other ways.

8. Saying something stupid in front of their friends. This one is almost unavoidable … at least I know it is for me! Sometimes you’re going to put your foot in your mouth, no matter who you’re with. Just do your best not to be too unguarded with your word selection in front of the friends.

9. Drinking too much or doing drugs. This one seems obvious to most, but some parents feel like they have a right to keep on doing the things they’ve always done, including mood-altering substances. If this is you, I encourage you to get help. If you want successful teens, then consider the fact that if you continue to abuse drugs or alcohol, you will more than likely soon be estranged from your teen, who is at great risk of taking on the same behavior as you.

10. Not taking care of your body. No one said parenting was easy, so why would you be shocked that it might also include taking better care of yourself? Giving your child the gift of your health is priceless. If your body draws attention to your teenager, then I can almost guarantee you that they are embarrassed. Teens desperately hope to avoid situations that will make them look odd, and that includes having an odd parent.

Don’t Let Your Kids Get Away With Lying

SOURCE:  Scott Williams

 Lying, no matter how small, is a big deal.
If our children are going to develop the discipline to always embrace the truth, it will be with our help.

There have always been two schools of thought about the relationship between children and wrongdoing:

  • The “blank slate” argument holds that children are amoral at birth and are wholly shaped by their environment and by significant people in their lives
  • The “inherent sin” argument holds that children are born sinful and don’t need any corrupting influences to do wrong, just the opportunity.

I have always held to the latter argument (especially now that I have watched our seven children grow up). But in an article in New York magazine titled “Learning to Lie,” author Po Bronson has made me do some thinking. My position hasn’t changed, mind you, just become better informed. Here it is: We’re all born liars, and the more practice we have, the better we are at it.

Summarizing several studies, Bronson reported these observations:

  • Despite what many popular books advise, children don’t grow out of lying, they grow into it.
  • Lying is related to intelligence: Smarter kids make better liars.
  • Ninety-eight percent of teens believe lying is wrong, but the same percent admit lying to their parents.
  • When teens argue with parents about their wishes, it’s often a positive alternative (relatively speaking) to the frequent first choice—just going behind their parents’ backs.
  • Knowing that there are consequences motivates children not to lie less, but to not get caught.
  • An appeal to honesty is far more effective than the threat of punishment in getting children not to lie.

The whole article is fascinating. To me, the most eye-opening part of the story involved a study where subjects were asked to admit the biggest lie they ever told.

“I was fully expecting serious lies,” [researcher Bella] DePaulo remarks. “Stories of affairs kept from spouses, stories of squandering money, or being a salesperson and screwing money out of car buyers.”

And she did hear those kinds of whoppers, including theft and even one murder. But to her surprise, a lot of the stories told were about when the subject was a mere child—and they were not, at first glance, lies of any great consequence. “One told of eating the icing off a cake, then telling her parents the cake came that way. Another told of stealing some coins from a sibling.” As these stories first started trickling in, DePaulo scoffed, thinking, “C’mon, that’s the worst lie you’ve ever told?” But the stories of childhood kept coming, and DePaulo had to create a category in her analysis just for them. “I had to reframe my understanding to consider what it must have been like as a child to have told this lie,” she recalls. “For young kids, their lie challenged their self-concept that they were a good child, and that they did the right thing.”

Many subjects commented on how that momentous lie early in life established a pattern that affected them thereafter. “We had some who said, ‘I told this lie, I got caught, and I felt so badly, I vowed to never do it again.’ Others said, ‘Wow, I never realized I’d be so good at deceiving my father, I can do this all the time.’ The lies they tell early on are meaningful. The way parents react can really affect lying.”

The takeaway here is that lying, no matter how small, is a big deal. Think about it. Lying requires, first, a recognition of the truth. Faced with the prospect of not looking good against the truth, a child or adult then has to devise an alternative, usually opposite, version of the truth. Even before the lie is told, there has already been a conscious decision to reject the truth.

Parents play an important role in helping their children not to get trapped in this pattern. Here are some of the best things you can do as parents to steer your children away from lying.

Be an example. They need you to be the examples of telling the truth, and that includes avoiding white lies and socially polite (but disingenuous) remarks designed to evade conflict. Children are in a constant process of learning what is true, appropriate, and helpful in how they interact positively with others.

Lying, unfortunately, is a fact of life in a sin-crusted world. We need to be honest with ourselves and with our children. We are all tempted to lie, and each of us fails the truth test more than we care to admit. If our children are going to develop the discipline to always embrace the truth, it will be with our help. Make truth the norm in your home.

Emphasize relationship. Bronson’s article and other social research reveal that the children who lie the least are those who have a warm relationship with their parents and who have open lines of communication with them. Conversely, the children most likely to lie are those who are regularly confronted by their parents over minor offenses—like leaving a mess in the family room or forgetting to follow through on a responsibility. Rather than pointing out the wrong in these situations, simply reminding the child of the right thing to do is more likely to prevent the child from repeating the offense the next time the opportunity presents itself.

It’s important to realize that one of the reasons children lie to their parents is because they want to please them. Many times, kids fear that if they tell the truth, their parents will think less of them or not love them. Therefore, make it easier for your children to tell the truth. Acknowledge when they do make the difficult decision to tell the truth in spite of consequences. Assure them of your unconditional love, and tell them that one of the things that makes you happy is when they tell the truth.

Show them the big picture. The Apostle John reflected the heart of God when he said, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4). In Scripture, the word “truth” is repeatedly used as an essential characteristic of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In contrast, Satan is referred to as the “father of lies” and “the deceiver.” Most important for us to teach our children is that lying is a poor reflection of God, who created each of us in His image and who loves us in spite of our sin.

We do this by being honest and open ourselves. We need to constantly remind our children that lying is not as much deceiving others as it is being deceived ourselves. Satan is the father of lies, but God is the Author of truth. Living uprightly before God means never having to be afraid of the truth. And we can assure them that God’s forgiveness (as well as ours) in the face of sin is always there when they are willing to admit when they have fallen short of the truth.

Living in the light

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another,” the Apostle Paul told the believers at Ephesus (Ephesians 4:25).

Children need your loving reminder that lying undermines their reputation. But even worse, it harms a relationship. Truth is at the heart of every good relationship. Help your children understand that honesty builds those relationships, but deception undermines them. And just as we become better liars the more practice we have, we develop stronger relationships with others and with God the more we practice living in the light of truth.

Protecting Your Son From Aggressive Girls

SOURCE:  Dennis Rainey/Family Life

We’re seeing a surge in girls taking the initiative with guys at younger and younger ages, and aggressively attempting to lure them into sexual activity.

These experiences led to my book, Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date, which was published in 2007. I received a lot of positive feedback from appreciative dads, but I also got something that I didn’t expect. Quite a few parents contacted me to say, “I really appreciate the helpful advice for raising daughters, but we really need something to help our sons deal with aggressive girls in this sexually-saturated culture.”

Read this mother’s frustration:

I have a very outgoing, charming, attractive 15-year-old son. I have literally been chasing the girls away from the door ever since the seventh grade. The phone calls, identified by caller ID, were left for the answering machine to answer. The aggressiveness and promiscuity of young girls nowadays is beyond words. Their dress is so alluring and inviting to a young man, what’s a guy to do? Moreover, what’s a mom to do?

Another mother wrote after hearing the FamilyLife Today® broadcast we did on my book:

After listening to your “Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date” program today, I’m wondering if you have been on a high school or junior high campus recently. While I agree with your points today, I have a seventh grade son. Let me tell you that the girls are relentless. So aggressive. He’s at a Christian school, and this is a problem. I can only imagine what it may be like elsewhere. Please address this issue.

Back when I was growing up, there were some girls who were called “boy crazy,” but very few were as forward and aggressive as what we’re seeing today. Based on my conversation with parents, and what I’ve seen through research on the internet, I think parents are facing some serious challenges. We’re seeing more girls taking the initiative with guys at younger and younger ages and aggressively attempting to lure them into sexual activity. As I’ve done research on the issue, parents are telling me about groups of girls getting together and targeting young men.

Of course, I’m not talking about all young ladies. But the situation has changed enough in recent years that we need to ask: How can we prepare our teenage sons for dealing with the attention and temptation being thrown at them by some sexually aggressive girls?

What in the world is happening?

What is going on in the hearts of some young girls that causes them to be so assertive? I think there are several reasons for what we are seeing:

First, the culture is supporting it. Movies, television shows, commercials, magazines, books … they all glamorize sex and intimacy and the right of young women to go after whatever it is they think will make them happy.

Second, we have a whole generation of young men who are confused in their own sexual identity. Are they supposed to be sensitive or aggressive? Leaders or helpers? Many young men today are not being taught how to treat a young lady with nobility, dignity, and respect. Many are growing up without a father or male figure to provide guidance. As a result, some of these young men have no idea how they should expect to be treated by a real young lady.

Third, the breakdown of the family has resulted in a whole generation of daughters who have been abandoned. And in the absence of a healthy, emotional attachment to their fathers and mothers, they’re trying to fill their emotional gas tanks with the opposite sex.

Finally, there’s little or no preparation for adolescence occurring among parents of preteens or early teens. This may be the core problem. When you ask parents of preteens how many of them would like their children to have the same experience they had in adolescence, there aren’t many hands that go up. But those same parents often become increasingly detached as their children move into the adolescent years.

Teenagers need training to understand the culture, peer pressure, what’s happening in them with their hormones, and what’s happening with the opposite sex. That’s why we have resources like Passport2Purity®—to help parents ground their children in the Scripture that anchors their hearts to withstand the winds of culture and peer pressure.

Protecting your boys

There are six assumptions you need to make in training and educating your sons in how to handle aggressive girls:

Assumption #1: Young boys are clueless about a lot of what is going on around them. They need to be prepared for the reality of today’s world, and this preparation needs to start while they are still boys. This is why I’d suggest that mothers and fathers talk with their 10- to 12-year-old sons about how they relate to the opposite sex before they face the temptation. There’s a much greater probability of success if you can have these conversations before the hormones hit.

Assumption #2: Aggressive girls will likely come into your son’s life. The problem is that most parents won’t know it, because teenage boys don’t talk about anything. But it could be taking place in your son’s life and he’s just not letting you know, so you have to pursue him in the process.

Assumption #3: You, as a parent, need a proactive plan. That plan will involve fathers and sons, but …

Assumption #4: Moms, that plan needs to involve you. You know how girls think and you can help your son understand girls in ways that a father can’t.

Assumption #5: With a son, this instruction, teaching, and call to accountability doesn’t end with the adolescent years. It continues on into adulthood. (And in my opinion, it doesn’t stop after they get married.) Why? Because there are women who are still preying upon men who are married, and every man needs an older man in his life who is asking him “Remember those conversations we had, Son? You’re a married man now, but that does not exempt you from temptation. How are you doing with that?”

Assumption #6: Your son needs a call to manhood. Ultimately, the call to a young man is to step up and become a noble man, a moral man, a spiritual man, God’s man. You’re going to call your sons as they move through adolescence to step up to maturity and step up to real manhood. And to do that, they need a mother and a father repetitively teaching Scripture and encouraging them as they do take these steps toward maturity.

I think one of the finest illustrations of this is in Proverbs, chapters 5-7. In this passage, the writer was reflecting back on conversations he had with his son about aggressive women. And over and over he basically says, “Listen, my son. Hear my warnings. Embrace what I say, because it’s important.”

The writer concludes the whole passage by saying, “Don’t fool around with her, Son. Don’t go near her. Because she runs a halfway house to hell, and she has your grave clothes and your coffin, Son. Heads up. This is dangerous stuff we’re talking about here” (my paraphrase of Proverbs 7:24-27).

One other Scripture your son should be familiar with, and commit to memory, is 2 Timothy 2:22: “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

That passage is equally helpful for young men and young women. And while we’re on the subject, what if you have daughters; how do you keep them from being drawn into this culture of aggressive girls?

Training your daughters

If you are raising a daughter, there are at least four things you should consider:

1. Equip your daughter with a biblical, healthy, God-centered perspective of her sexuality. She needs to understand how her clothes and her behavior affect boys. When girls are too flirty or too friendly with the opposite sex, they need to be told. If you witness this kind of behavior, rehearse it and relive it later on and talk about what it does to guys. Explain what is appropriate in terms of a friendly relationship between a young lady and a young man. This needs to be done without being rude, but we cannot let our daughters get away with being overly friendly or overly aggressive.

2. Moms, model what you teach to your daughters. You need to dress appropriately, the way you would want your teenage daughters to dress when they’ve matured. There is a mixed signal that is sent when a mom is telling her daughter to dress conservatively, but her own clothes call too much attention to her body.

3. Dads, actively love your daughters. Give your daughter words of affection, warm hugs, and gentle kisses that let her know that she’s sweet, you’re her daddy, and that no matter how big she gets and how mature she is, you’re never going to stop giving her those words and those hugs. No matter how threatening that may be as your daughter matures, you need to let her know that there’s a wholesome love through words and affection that occurs within a God-centered family.

4. Appropriately correct inappropriate behavior. Pray about how you should instruct her, help her, and correct her. Then begin to train her as to what is appropriate and what isn’t. This could be everything from how she looks at guys, to the makeup she wears, to the clothing she wears.

One of the most important things I did with our daughters was to go shopping with them. It was important for two reasons: First, it showed me how difficult it was for them to find appropriate clothing that is modest and fashionable; and second, it allowed me to give my approval or disapproval before the purchase was made.

Whether you’re a mom or dad, and whether you’re raising boys or girls, your children need your love and guidance as never before. They need to be loved when they don’t believe in themselves. They need to be clothed in wisdom that morally protects them like armor.

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For more help on this topic, order Dennis Rainey’s book  Aggressive Girls, Clueless Boys: 7 Conversations You Must Have with Your Son.

Love Shouldn’t Be Withdrawn Because You Say No

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud/Dr. John Townsend

“Every time I disagree with my mother, even on little things, I feel this terrible sense that she’s not there anymore,” mused Brandy over coffee with her friend Whitney. “It’s like she’s hurt and withdrawn, and I can’t get her back. It’s really a horrible feeling to think you’ve lost someone you love.”

Let’s be honest. None of us enjoys being told no. It’s difficult to accept another person’s refusal to give support, to be intimate, or to forgive. Yet good relationships are built on the freedom to refuse and confront.

Good relationships are built on appropriate no’s. Even when we’re children, young or old, we need to know our boundaries will be honored. It is crucial that our disagreements, our practicing of saying no, and our experimentation will not result in a withdrawal of love.

When parents pull away in hurt, disappointment, or passive rage, they are sending this message to their child: You’re lovable when you behave. You aren’t lovable when you don’t behave. A child translates that message something like this: When I’m good, I am loved. When I’m bad, I am cut off.

In essence, parents who pull away from their child, whether young or old, practice emotional blackmail. The child can either pretend to not disagree and keep the relationship, or he can continue to separate and lose his most important relationship in the world. Thus, he will most likely keep quiet.

Children whose parents withdraw when they start setting limits learn to accentuate and develop their compliant, loving, sensitive parts. At the same time, they learn to fear, distrust, and hate their aggressive, truth-telling, and separate parts. If someone they love pulls away when they become angry, cantankerous, or experimental, children learn to hide these parts of themselves.

Parents who tell their children, “It hurts us when you’re angry” make the child responsible for the emotional health of the parent. In effect, the child has just been made the parent of the parent — sometimes at two or three years old. It’s far, far better to say, “I know you’re angry, but you still can’t have that toy.” And then to take your hurt feelings to a spouse, or friend.

By nature, children are omnipotent. They live in a world where the sun shines because they were good, and it rains because they were naughty. Children will give up this omnipotence gradually over time, as they learn that needs and events besides theirs are important. But during the early years, this omnipotence plays right into boundary injury. When children feel parents withdrawing, they readily believe that they are responsible for Mom and Dad’s feelings. That’s what omnipotent means: “I am powerful enough to make Mom and Dad pull away. I’d better watch it.”

A parent’s emotional withdrawal can be subtle: A hurt tone of voice. Long silences for no reason. Or it can be overt: Crying spells. Illness. Yelling. Children of parents like these grow up to be adults who are terrified that setting boundaries will cause severe isolation and abandonment.

Please don’t misunderstand this. Parents setting boundaries with their children is crucial. Children need to know behavioral lines that should not be crossed. They need to suffer age-appropriate consequences for acting out. In fact, when parents do not set and maintain good boundaries with their children, the children suffer another type of boundary injury.

What we’re talking about here isn’t allowing the child free rein. Parents need to stay attached and connected to their children even when they disagree with them. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get angry. It means they shouldn’t withdraw.

This Is Why Your Kid’s Not Listening to You

SOURCE:  Stephanie Loomis Pappas /The Gottman Institute

I’m awake earlier than usual and hiding out in bed for a few precious minutes of reading time when a wail interrupts me mid-paragraph. My three-year-old opens my door and throws himself at the bed.

I reach out for a hug. “What’s the matter?”

He ignores me and screams louder.

“Why are you so sad?”

He screams louder and swipes at me.

“Well, I don’t want to spend time with someone who is screaming at me.” I get up and walk into my bathroom.

He follows, screams echoing off the tiles.

But I should really know better than to ask why my son is sad, because the book he just interrupted – Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s timeless “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” – warned me off asking why when dealing with an upset child.

Kids’ feelings are real feelings

In the foundational chapter of their book, originally published in 1980 and more recently in a 30th Anniversary Edition, Faber and Mazlish demonstrate the many ways in which parents minimize or reject their children’s feelings: A child complains about being hot, and a parent responds by telling the kid to put on a winter jacket. A child whimpers about a paper cut, and the parent dismisses it as no big deal.

For Faber and Mazlish, these brushed-off feelings are an early breach of trust between parents and their children. The bedrock of Faber and Mazlish’s approach to parenting is acknowledging children’s feelings. Not dismissing. Not minimizing. Not jumping to explain, or blame, or problem-solve. Just acknowledging.

Faber and Mazlish offer four ways that parents can acknowledge their children’s feelings. Parents can simply look at their children and listen. They can offer short acknowledgments like “I see” or “Uh-huh.” They can identify feelings. Or they can give their children their “wishes in fantasy,” like “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could wear shorts in the winter?” or “I wish we could build a paper cut healing machine!”

Kids may not understand their feelings

Faber and Mazlish add a special caution against “why.” Although some kids can explain their feelings in the moment, many cannot. For those kids, asking why just makes things worse:
in addition to their original distress, they must now analyze the cause and come up with a reasonable explanation. Very often children don’t know why they feel as they do. At other times, they’re reluctant to tell you because they fear that, in the adult’s eyes, their reason won’t seem good enough. (“For that you’re crying?”)

What kids need, Faber and Mazlish argue, is for their feelings to be understood and respected, not questioned.

Imagine you get a call from someone you’ve known a long time, maybe a sibling or a dear friend. Just their tone of voice leads you to say things like, “You sound tired,” or “Oh no, you must not be feeling well,” or “You sound like you’re having a great day.”

But when talking to your child, who is in the room with you and offering plenty of clues as to how he’s feeling, you ask, “What’s the matter?” or “Why are you crying?” Even though we are trying to communicate empathy, these phrases make it seem as though we’re not really hearing our children.

Did I need to know why my son was sad in order to understand his feelings? I knew he was sad, but I didn’t acknowledge his feeling. Instead, I reflexively swooped in to solve the crying with whatever explanation fit his situation this time.

Maybe my son was crying because he was woken by the neighbors. Maybe he was crying because he’d had that nightmare with the turkey. Maybe he was crying because he was too hot or too cold. Maybe he was crying because that’s what kids do lots of the time. In reaching out for him, I was clearly trying to comfort. But did my “why” add to that? Did it matter why he was crying, or that he was seeking comfort from me?

“Why” sounds like an accusation

Once I started listening to myself, I realized that I often ask some version of “why?” in response to almost all of my child’s emotional outbursts. What’s the matter? Why are you crying? Why do you feel sad? Why are you laughing?

In our worst moments, “why” can become a parent’s accusation. Why didn’t you tell me you needed help with your homework? Why did you break all your pencils? Why didn’t you remember to take the dog out? Why did you do that to your little sister?

These kinds of why questions, Faber and Mazlish argue, put children in an impossible position. They either identify as inadequate or start getting defensive, placing blame on others. Neither position helps children solve their problems.

Turning off “why”

After reading Faber and Mazlish’s suggestion to avoid asking why, I resolve to start acknowledging my son’s feelings. My next chance comes later that morning when he runs into the kitchen and yells, “It’s raining!” before collapsing into sobs.

“Why are you sad it’s –” I catch myself and switch course. “You’re sad it’s raining.”

“Yes.”

“Sometimes the noise of rain can be scary.”

“Yes.”

My son dives in for a hug and asks if we can read a book. I pick Mo Willems’ “Are You Ready to Play Outside”, which seems appropriate given my son’s mood about the weather.

Turning “why” on ourselves

Faber and Mazlish make a compelling case for not asking “why” when our kids are wrestling with negative emotions. Although their focus is on children, their book also suggests even more important “why” questions:

Why are parents so quick to dismiss or minimize their children’s feelings? Why are we made so angry or uncomfortable by our children’s displays of negative emotion?

It’s incredibly difficult to consider the reasoning behind our own parenting decisions. People spend years in therapy answering that question. But it’s likely true that many of us are wound up in our hopes and dreams for our children. We want them to be happy, fulfilled, and successful. Their negative emotions seem like evidence that they are not thriving.

If we don’t want our children to crumple at the slightest provocation, to in fact flourish despite the difficult times, we need to help them identify and address their emotions.

It’s Not Your Job to Entertain Your Children

SOURCE:  Family Life Ministry/Jenae Jacobson

There’s more to mothering than keeping your kids amused.

I fear that we are headed down a slippery slope when it comes to one aspect of parenting.  And we at least need to start talking about it.

For some reason we have this strange belief that it is our job to entertain our kids all. the. time.

In case you aren’t convinced … feel free to browse Pinterest for a few minutes or visit one of the amazing blogs with activities for children. I, too, am guilty of spinning my wheels day after day, trying my hardest to provide fun experiences for my children … all in the name of being a good mom.

Yes, we want our kids to have a happy childhood with a variety of experiences. But this certainly doesn’t mean that the mark of a good mother is spending all her time creating and engaging her kids in those activities.

My goal as a parent is to raise my children to know, love, and emulate Jesus.  Entertaining them is not what should take up the majority of my focus. My focus should be on others, just as Jesus’ was. After all, the two greatest commandments are loving God and loving others.

So, what is a mother to do?

Meet their needs of feeding, changing, and bathing? Yes.

Teach our children? Yes.

Engage with our children in play? Yes.

Enjoy our children? Yes.

Play with our children? Yes, although not every minute of the day.

Encourage our children to think of others before themselves? YES!

Laugh with, tickle, and kiss our sweet babies? OF COURSE!

Entertain our children every minute of the day? No.

The fact is, when we make it our mission in life to make sure that our children are entertained and having fun, we are teaching them that life is all about them! It also can prohibit children from using their imagination and creativity to come up with something fun to do on their own.  This is a problem with my firstborn—I continually entertained him from birth to 2 years of age, when his little brother was born, and now he has a hard time playing on his own.

Rather than going out of our way to find ways to entertain our kids, let’s go out of our way thinking of opportunities that we can serve and love others together.

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This article originally appeared as a post on MomLife Today®, FamilyLife’s blog for moms.

When Your Children Have Mental Illness

SOURCE:  Diane Ramirez/Today’s Christian Woman

Keeping your stressed marriage healthy

After 35 years of marriage, serious thoughts of divorcing my husband took me by surprise.

I never thought I would ever consider leaving James, as divorce is contrary to our Christian values. But when our contention over difficulties with our adult children escalated, I started to entertain thoughts of separation, and so did he.

Let me be real with you. I suffer with depression; it runs through my genes. Our son is diagnosed with mixed bipolar disorder, and our adopted daughter suffers with severe separation anxiety. Throw in a spouse who is an A-type personality, and you have a recipe for conflict.

The crisis peaked when our youngest daughter moved back home with an infant and a 5-year-old. Her husband was deployed overseas. Not only was she experiencing debilitating separation anxiety, she was making unhealthy choices and spending much of her time with old friends. Her checking out caused a lot of clashes. My mental and physical health disintegrated. Many times I had to leave our home for days just to get rest, as she expected me to pick up the slack of caring for her kids.

I felt alone, fatigued, and mad that my husband was not there for me. I discovered, through our many “talks,” that he didn’t like the way I was acting. He wondered why I couldn’t rise above the madness. He didn’t grasp the emotional and physical strain of day-to-day life at home because he escaped by going to work, school, or other activities away from us.

Differences Can Create Wedges

In a crisis, it’s typical to want to escape. The mayhem created by constant appeals for help from both of our adult children created a vacuum in our relationship. This is how my husband described it on our blog, “Not Losing Heart”:

“[My wife] seemed to have a different understanding than I at first. Our beliefs were at odds and it was putting a wedge between us. I believed that if our children would do this or that, or do things my way, they would get it right. When my wife challenged my thinking, I became angrier inside. I felt she was coddling them.”

A wedge is a good way to describe what can happen to a marriage when mental illness raises its ugly head. Parents tend to think a change in a child’s behavior is due to the normal developmental challenges of adolescence. Disagreements on what causes these behaviors or what should be done can create a wedge. These differences are even more apparent when dealing with an adult child who should be living independently.

A wedge creates a gap and a gap can create a chasm if a couple will not stop and assess what is happening. It is so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of chaos that mental illness causes.

In our marriage, these factors created our wedge:

  • We had different perspectives on solutions. My husband wanted our children to be more independent. He wanted a “quick fix”; I wanted to nurture and stay engaged with them. Both of us felt we were supporting them, but with totally different styles.
  • Our communication broke down. A difference of opinions is expected, but when those opinions keep a couple from reaching a solution, anger, anxiousness, frustration, and loneliness set in. It’s like a tug-of-war over who is right. Each is working against the other, and it’s exhausting.
  • We neglected our marriage. When we were caught up in our separate whirlwinds of emotion, focusing on our marriage was impossible. Resentment, snapping at each other, and being easily annoyed were a few indicators that we had lost touch with each other. Our relationship suffered.
  • Our emotional responses were different. My husband withdrew to escape the chaos and stuffed his emotions. I resented him for his lack of involvement and became overcome with sorrow and depression, which affected my physical health.

What happened to our desire to live as one in Christ? To allow the Lord to live through us, to be a godly wife and husband? The unexpected super-storm sucked away our purpose as a Christian couple, because we let down our guard. We prayed, but we each had choices to make about where we were going.

As you contend with the difficulties surrounding a child with a brain disorder, there is no “easy button” to push. The truth is, it will feel like pushing a 10-ton boulder up a slippery slope. Perseverance is a key. And awareness of what is happening can be a catalyst in the meeting of the minds.

“Should Haves” to Do Now

My husband and I are healing now, thank God. In looking back, we discovered our “should haves”—a little late, perhaps, but still in time to save our marriage and to shrink the gaps developed by our ever-increasing differences. I’m including them here for you, to help your marriage stay healthy while you weather the storm of your adult or young child’s life with mental illness.

  • Acknowledge you and your spouse are on different wavelengths. You might find more clarity if you write down what you think are the points of disagreement concerning your child.
  • Seek help. Find a trusted counselor to help mediate your differences.
  • Be honest with how you feel. Feelings are neither right nor wrong.
  • Respect how your spouse feels, even though it may upset you. (This is not easy.) And don’t make assumptions about the ways he/she is reacting.
  • Make up your minds that your relationship is a priority no matter what is happening around you. Set boundaries, which can guide you in which crises really demand your time.
  • Talk and listen. Don’t assume your partner is wrong in his or her assessment of the situation.
  • Get a diagnosis for your child, or if he or she is an adult, encourage the adult child to get a diagnosis. Knowledge is power.
  • Most important, educate yourselves on what that diagnosis means for your child (adult or not) and for your family.
  • Don’t forget humor; it really helps.
  • Above all, give each other grace to work through the crisis. God has a separate timetable for each of us. He makes all things beautiful in his time.

Again I’ll quote my husband: “I remember when my wife began to look for information and searched the Internet, the library, and any resource she could find, and then shared that information with me. Something clicked inside. To our relief, we eventually found NAMI (The National Alliance on Mental Illness). It was as though someone had thrown me a lifeline and given me the tools to make a difference in the life of our children, my marriage, and others. My wife and I needed to be on the same page as it came to giving compassion and finding empathy for what they were going through. She needed my support and I needed hers.”

It is my hope and prayer that if you’re in the kind of upheaval my husband and I experienced, these suggestions will aid you in getting a grip much sooner and arrive at the place where you can support each other.

Don’t forget love. Love is the ultimate ingredient to stepping outside yourself. Love and perseverance will rekindle your marriage and reestablish your bond—keeping your connection intact no matter the how fierce the raging storm mental illness can cause.

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Diane Ramirez is a freelance writer, wife, mother of three adult children, and grandmother of five. She volunteers for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), co-facilitating a support group and the NAMI Basic classes for parents, and she blogs about this topic at NotLosingHeart.com.

 

4 Ways Emotional Neglect From Your Childhood Can Harm Your Relationships

SOURCE:   /PsychCentral

One of the most difficult things about growing up with your feelings ignored (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN) is the way it affects your relationships once you have grown up.

When you grow up in an emotionally neglectful family, your feelings are not responded to enough by your parents. From your parents’ lack of response, you learn a secret lesson that lives deeply and unseen within you for the rest of your life. You learn that your emotions are not useful, and don’t matter.

Children who grow up this way do not learn how to value, understand, or use their own emotions. Instead, they may spend their entire adult lives running from their own feelings, or trying to push them away.

Among all the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect, two pack the biggest punch when it comes to your ability to connect with others.

  1. It leaves you disconnected from your emotions.
  2. It leaves you lacking some essential skills that you need. 

Like an invisible rain cloud, your CEN hangs over your adult life, coloring your world gray, and robbing you of richness and color, energy and connection. Imagine the effect this has on your ability to be close and comfortable with the right people, in the right way.

As you read the 4 effects below, I ask you to keep two very important things in mind. First, you did not choose to grow up emotionally neglected, so none of this is your fault. Second, all 4 of these effects have to do with the wall that disconnects you from your emotions, and your skills. That wall can be taken down, and you can learn the skills. It can all be fixed!

4 Ways CEN Affects Your Relationships

  • It makes them more confusing than they should be

To successfully manage any kind of relationship, it’s very important to have enough emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence includes the ability to know what you are feeling and why, manage your feelings, and talk about them with the other person, if needed. If you have all those skills, you can use them to understand what is going on with you, and you can also use them to read what the other person is feeling, and why. Then you can respond appropriately, as needed.

How your CEN interferes: If your feelings were not validated as important when you were growing up, you likely missed the “Emotion Training” that you were supposed to receive from your parents. Now relationships, especially your own feelings and actions, as well as other people’s feelings and behaviors, can seem like a puzzle for you. It’s hard to cope with a problem in a relationship when you can’t quite see it or understand it.

  • It drives you apart from the other person

Going through your life without enough emotional intelligence has another very impactful effect: it makes you feel unequipped to handle conflicts. This naturally makes you fearful of encountering problems in your relationships, and this is a fear that you must cope with. The most common way for folks with CEN to cope is to simply avoid conflicts altogether. If you have CEN and you are reading this, you may think that’s a pretty good solution to the problem. But it’s not.

How your CEN interferes: Avoiding conflict requires you to push your own feelings underground, and also ignore any signs of hurt or anger from the other person. What happens to feelings that are pushed away or ignored? They grow. They grow and they grow, and drive a wedge between you and the other person. You will drift farther and farther away from each other, and you may not even realize it is happening.

  • It keeps them superficial

Relationships of all kinds thrive on feelings: both positive and negative, believe it or not. Talking about difficult things with someone builds trust. Working through a conflict with someone builds understanding. Giving and receiving emotional support builds warmth and care. And all of those mix together to provide any relationship its depth. 

How your CEN interferes: When emotions are not addressed or dealt with enough in a relationship, not enough richness or depth gets a chance to develop. This leaves your relationships more shallow than they should be, which makes them far less rewarding. You are experiencing your relationships in grayscale, when you should be living them in rich and stimulating colors.

  • It makes them less interesting

Emotion is the ingredient that keeps relationships interesting. To understand why, think of every movie you’ve ever enjoyed, and you’ll realize that every single one made you feel something. All feelings, both positive and negative, are stimulating. They provide us with fuel and zest and zeal. They motivate us, drive us, and move us.

How your CEN interferes: When you don’t have proper access to your emotions, you aren’t able to put them into your relationships. You likely hold back on topics that could be bonding and stimulating or upsetting to other people. For example, you may convey a deeply painful story by relaying only the events and facts. You may not be able to experience the emotional aspects of a story your friend is telling. This can make your time spent together uninteresting, or maybe even boring. Not just for you, but also for the person you are with.

What To Do

I know you may be feeling daunted after reading about the obstacles above. But I want you to know that you should actually be hopeful! All these years, you’ve been experiencing your relationships in a dulled way, without fully realizing what you were missing. But now you know what’s wrong, and that your Childhood Emotional Neglect can be addressed and healed. You can break down the wall that blocks you from your feelings, and learn the emotion skills you missed. It takes perseverance and work, yes.

But your family will thank you, your partner will thank you, and your children will grow up happier and healthier. That is a win win win on every level.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is often invisible and unmemorable, so it can be hard to know if you have it. To find out, Take The Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.

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To learn how to heal the effects of Emotional Neglect in your relationships, see my new book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

Your Family Voyage: Family Rules

SOURCE:  Excerpted from the book by P. Roger Hillerstrom

Rules and More Rules.  No human response is absurd regardless of how ridiculous it appears.  Each person’s behavior, decisions, and reactions emerge from a context of some sort.  This frame of reference, if it is understood can shine a spotlight into a dark area that is otherwise baffling.  In essence, family rules are the way family values are passed on from one generation to another.  Through rules, a family communicates its expectations for family members as well as for those outside the family.  Rules tell us what is acceptable and unacceptable, proper and improper, good and bad.  Family rules communicate expectations about how people are to relate to one another, how the different generations are to interact, and what is expected of each individual.

In the same way that family roles give each member a place to “fit” into the family identity, family rules tell each member how to play his or her part.  Some rules are very clear and understandable; some are extremely clouded and confusing.  Since families have expectations about everything they do, they also have rules about everything they do.

“Written rules” – expectations that have been communicated directly in some way.  Written rules give structure and stability to family life.  They include things such as table manners, curfews and chores.

  • “Finish your dinner or no dessert.”
  • “Do your homework before you go out to play.”
  • “Bedtime is ten o’clock.”

Unwritten rules are quite another story.  These rules consistently influence behavior within the family but have never been directly stated.  These unspoken expectations are not open for discussion or evaluation, generally because no one is consciously aware of them.

Families have unwritten rules about all kinds of things.  The most readily visible rules are those regarding emotional tension.  If the children misbehave or cause distraction whenever the parents argue, they are communicating the rule “Parents can’t fight”.  If parents take over a task or job for a child whenever he or she complains or experiences difficulty, then the rule may be “Children can’t be frustrated”.  If family members act differently around a particular parent, treating them “with kid gloves”, the rule may be “Mom (or Dad) must not get angry.  Because unwritten rules are not verbalized, family members may often be unaware they exist.

Family rules accomplish several purposes.  For one, they serve to regulate tension within the family.  Too much tension or conflict within a home makes family life chaotic, unsettled, and insecure; too little tension results in stagnation and indifference.

Another purpose served by family rules is that of defining the family’s identity.  They give the family a sense of uniqueness.

A third purpose is that rules lend stability and predictability to family life.

The good news about family rules is that they help make family life stable and predictable.  The bad news is that family rules can keep family members from growing, maturing, and changing.  This is especially true for rules that limit communication or emotional closeness.  It is also true for rules that are arbitrary and overly rigid.

Some rules help us prepare for and live in the adult world.  Other unwritten rules apply only to life within the family, and they often distort our perspective of life.  As adults we continue to be loyal to these rules until we consciously change them.

The most influential rules in our families are the unwritten ones – those based on assumptions.  It is usually easier to identify unwritten family rules in someone else’s family than in your own.  Unwritten rules are generally enforced through rejection by parents and family members.  Controlling children through rejection can be done with direct statements:

  • “Mommy doesn’t love you when you act like that.”
  • “You are an awful child when you do that.”
  • “If you act (talk, feel) like that, you’re no child of mine.”

Rejection and control can also be expressed indirectly:

  • “I won’t talk to you when you’re crying (angry, depressed).”
  • “Go to your room if you feel that way.”
  • “I won’t be around you when you’re like that.”

The common factor in both expressions of rejection is the underlying message:  “You will be loved and considered worthy only if you perform properly.”  Behavior is not separated from the individual.  Bad behavior equals a bad person.  The result is a sense of shame and fear of abandonment.

An alternative message would be:  “I love you regardless of what you do, but there are negative consequences for your inappropriate behavior.”  In this case parental love and acceptance are not withheld and consequences for behavior are separated from the child as a person.

To a young child, the threat of rejection or abandonment is a powerful motivator.  Physically dependent on parents and authority figures, children have a strong need to please them.  Something as subtle as a facial gesture, the refusal of a hug, or silence can elicit fear and shame in a young child.  When the threat of rejection is used regularly and consistently in a child’s life, that child becomes sensitized to rejection.  He or she develops a habit of avoiding rejection at all costs, which will carry over into adulthood long after the child becomes independent and no longer needs parents for physical survival.

Expressing Emotions.  For Ken to see his wife cry was an unnerving experience. Whenever she cried he felt a strong need to stop her and smooth things out somehow.  For Catherine, crying was a soothing release of tension.  She felt minimized and patronized when Ken would try to squelch her tears, and she interpreted his lack of observable emotion as apathy.  It was hard for her to feel she was important to him when he expressed no emotion.  It wasn’t until each began to understand the other’s family rules that their reactions began to change.

Most families have unwritten rules about the expression of various emotions.  The honest expression of feelings needs to be balanced with courtesy and respect for others.  Typically, the unwritten rules regarding expression revolve around “forbidden” emotions:

  • “It is wrong to make another person uncomfortable.  We do not confront one another.”
  • “We are a positive, joyful family.  No one may express negative emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, or hurt.”
  • “The women in our family are gentle.  They may not be angry, but they may be depressed.”
  • “The men in our family are strong.  They may not be fearful or hurt, but they may be angry.”
  • “We are a loving family.  We do not have conflict or disagree with one another.”

When genuine feelings are minimized, denied, or redefined, a child’s emotional experience becomes distorted.  Believing that anger or sadness is bad does not make it less real.  The child learns to distrust the senses and becomes confused – anger isn’t really anger; hurt isn’t really hurt.  When children experience a forbidden emotion, they feel guilty and ashamed as though they themselves are somehow “bad”.  They then deny the emotion to avoid the shame.

When emotions are denied consistently, as a way of life, they tend to come out “sideways”, in some form that does not violate the family rule.  Rules suppressing emotions often produce adults who may be convinced that they harbor no anger, but their depression, ulcers, or migraine headaches tell another story.

Family members learn to develop emotional distance.  When someone cannot or will not express strong feelings, other people have a hard time getting to know that person very well.  Families with restrictive rules governing honest emotional interaction are often communicating to one another that emotional stability is valued more highly than emotional closeness.

Many families have strict unwritten rules regarding standards of performance by family members.  Examples of these may be:

  • “Whatever you do, it must be done correctly.”
  • “There’s only one way to do things – the right way!”
  • “To fail in any way is a shameful thing.”

These rules are learned clearly and quickly through regular, consistent criticism and minimal affirmation.  Criticism may be communicated directly, through complaints and condemnation of what a child does or how the child acts, or indirectly, through disapproving frowns, silence, or regularly comparing the child to someone or something “better”.

The definition of what is “correct” or “perfect” may vary widely.  One family may define “correct” as being sociable.  Having many friends and no enemies would be correct in this family.  Conflict then would be a measure of failure.  Another family may define “correct” as remaining separate from “the world”.  In this family a very small circle of social contacts would be considered appropriate and positive.

One family might measure “correctness” in financial terms.  A nice home, new cars, and many possessions would spell success.  The absence of these things may be cause for criticism or pity.  Another family may define “correct” behavior as the absence of materialism.

The values behind these rules may be positive and appropriate, but all too often these underlying motivations get lost when conformity becomes more highly valued than individuality.  The performance of family members becomes more important than the people themselves.

Whatever the specifics within the family, the definition of “right”, “correct” or “perfect” is always dependent on a comparison.  To be defined, “perfect” must be contrasted with “imperfect”.  Because there must always be a “wrong” to avoid at all costs, there is a judgmental attitude or a “better than others” aspect to this rule.

Since being “wrong” results in shame and being “right” is merely expected, avoiding being wrong becomes more important than doing what is right.  Defensiveness, blame, justification, and rationalization are typical patterns in families with perfectionistic performance rules.

The long-term effect of these rules is two-fold.  First a child develops a mental image as to what he or she “should be” and strives constantly to achieve it.  Usually this ideal standard cannot be achieved, at least consistently.  As a result of this, the child becomes self-critical, discontent, and defensive – a perfectionist.  Second, the child learns to project expectations and perfectionism onto others.  Since others cannot fulfill the expectations, the child is disappointed and critical.  This child is demanding, condemning, nagging, and rejecting.  He or she feels hurt and in turn hurts others, alienating them and damaging close relationships.

Physical Expression of Affection.  Eric can’t remember ever seeing his parents touch each other.  He certainly felt loved and cared for as a child, but that love wasn’t expressed through hugs.  In his family, affection was expressed through giving gifts and other tangible ways, such as doing special favors.  His wife, Rosa, grew up with constant physical affection from her family.  Touching among family members was a natural part of any conversation.  Early in their marriage Eric and Rosa were each offended by the other’s approach to this dissimilarity.  She felt neglected, and he felt smothered.

The communication of affection is laden with family expectations.  In some families, physical touch is comfortable and somewhat threatening.  In other families, members feel rejected when a greeting isn’t accompanied with an embrace.  Rules regarding physical expression of affection vary widely.

  • “Women may hug one another, men may only shake hands.”
  • “Adults may hug children but never other adults.”
  • “Physical affection is private, never to be shown in public.”
  • “If you care for someone, you touch that person regularly.”

Learning to Disobey.  Jesus demonstrated the result of emotionally leaving his family patterns and replacing them with mature priorities and decisions.  The process of leaving rules learned in childhood behind is difficult and calls for discernment.  Family rules that are dysfunctional and unhealthy can usually be identified by two factors:  They have little or no relationship to life outside the family, and family members are not able to discuss or evaluate them.

Some of the unwritten rules from your family of origin are undoubtedly positive and helpful to you today.  As you begin to break away from inappropriate rules from your childhood, remember that the family is a system or a mobile.  Change in one person causes changes in others.  In one way or another people around you will be forced to adjust in response to your new reactions.

Your Family Voyage: Birth Order

SOURCE:  Excerpted from the book by P. Roger Hillerstrom/Your Family Voyage

The Value of When – Birth Order.  The timing of your entrance into your family has a profound impact on who you become.  This is the underlying assumption of the study of sibling position or birth order.

The study of sibling position revolves around the fact that families change as they grow.  The family responds to each child differently, depending on the family’s stage of development.  Since each child is treated uniquely in the context of the whole family system, the relationship between the child and the family as a whole develops uniquely.

Your birth order impacts virtually every area of your life:  career decisions, choice of spouse, how you respond to your children, what motivates or frustrates you, and how you spend your leisure time.

As a family grows, the number of relationships and possible interactions within the system changes dramatically.  For example, before the arrival of children the marriage relationship involves three interacting units – two individual “I’s” and one couple “we” relationship, or interaction.  When the first child is born, the number of units increases to seven – three individuals, three couples and one triangle.  With the addition of child number two, there are four individuals, six couples, four triangles, and a quadrangle, for a total of fifteen units.  By the time there is a fourth child, the number of interactions exceeds fifty.

Each child is born into a family situation different from that of the preceding sibling.  The family changes in many other ways as each child is added.  Mom and Dad have changed as parents.  They have modified their expectations, added skills, and increased or decreased tolerances.  The number of formal and informal roles within the family has increased, social expectations have changed, and financial needs (and possibly income) are different.

The Firstborn.  Most firstborn kids have a fairly tough time of it.  Being new to their responsibility, parents tend to have high expectations.  By the time children number two and number three come along, Mom and Dad have faced a little reality, and child number one has taken the edge off of their idealism.  Nevertheless, since everything child number one does is a “first” for the parents, their expectations for him or her tend to remain fairly high.

Firstborns often develop into a type of “assistant parent.”  Given the responsibility of being an example to the younger children, most firstborns fall into a pattern of making decisions, giving orders, teaching, protecting and correcting behavior.  They are leaders.  Oldest siblings tend to have fairly high expectations for themselves and are frequently self-critical.

Firstborns tend to develop two sets of personality traits, being either compliant and responsible or independent, assertive, and strong willed.  Compliant and responsible firstborns may become Mom and Dad’s “appendage”, having clear authority over younger siblings and carrying out orders.

Outside of the home, these individuals are viewed as ideal students and employees.  They have a strong need for approval, especially from authority figures.  As a result, they are cooperative, reliable, conscientious, and appreciated by their leaders and mentors.  Compliant firstborns also tend to be easily manipulated.  Assertiveness doesn’t come easily and they have a natural desire to please others, so it is fairly easy for others to take advantage of them.  As children they are given responsibility for siblings; as adults they continue the pattern by taking responsibility for others.  They are “doormats” around the office or the over-committed church member.

Even when over-committed and overloaded, it is extremely difficult for these compliant firstborns to disappoint others by backing out and slowing down.  Frequently they become quietly resentful and bitter.

Some compliant firstborns are unable to please their parents, typically because of unrealistic expectations placed on them.  When positive reinforcement is consistently missing in the home, the compliant firstborn often becomes the “frustrated failure.”  When this child can’t measure up to his parents’ standards, instead of working harder to please others, he or she gives up.  As an adult this individual is passive, unmotivated and chronically self-defeating.

The second personality common to firstborns is that of the “driver”, who is independent, assertive, and strong willed. Rather than waiting for leadership to be handed over to him or her, this child has learned to take it.  Directing and controlling others seem to come naturally.

As adults these individuals tend to be high achievers, extremely productive and energetic, outperforming their peers.  They are competitive and take pride in being able to do more in less time than anyone else.

While assertive firstborns are very successful professionally, they typically neglect relationships on their way to the top.  Their need for control and focus on performance often make them difficult to become close to emotionally.

Firstborns tend to be more perfectionistic then their siblings and are more apt to view their world in terms of black and white.  Firstborn children tend to be fairly inflexible when it comes to rules.  Definitions of right and wrong, and good and bad, appear more distinct for these people, and they are often intent on having others comply with their interpretation of the rules.

In a marriage relationship, firstborns tend to have a strong need for and expectation of control.  Firstborns typically have difficulty accepting criticism from their spouses.  If you are a firstborn, you would do well to lower the expectations you have for yourself.  By performing less and relaxing more, you will find that your relationships naturally deepen.

The Lastborn.  The role most familiar to lastborns is that of follower.  The youngest child typically accustomed to being cared for, watched over, and provided for by siblings as well as parents.  Lastborns can usually be characterized as performers or tagalongs.

A performer is a child who grows up being coddled, catered to, and focused on by the rest of the family.  As the center of attention for the family, this member develops into a “performer”.  He learns to be very aware of people’s responses to him and often becomes a very effective manipulator.  This child has the tendency to be spoiled, moody, and impulsive.

A lastborn child who grows up being minimized – ignored, or not taken seriously – may become a tagalong.  Mom and Dad may be very busy at this stage in their life, with their attention divided among the other children, jobs, hobbies, and social life.  The “little tagalong” may end up with whatever energy and attention is left over.

For this child, the familiar role is that of being directed and led.  These individuals grow up with a strong emotional dependence on others.  Decision-making is often difficult.  They tend to be agreeable and conforming.  They are most comfortable in settings where someone else in charge will give them clear direction.

In either one of these scenarios, youngest children are not treated as peers by anyone in the family.  They are not given as much responsibility and less maturity is expected of them.  Parental demands are focused elsewhere.

Lastborns tend to be more carefree and less prone to worry than their siblings.  They have less need to be in control and have less concern about detail.  They tend to be more social and have a high need for the attention of others.  Because of their thirst for attention, they respond well to encouragement.  A pep talk and a few “attaboys” motivate lastborns to achieve, though their efforts may be short-lived if the praise drops off.

In a marriage relationship, lastborns tend to bring out the dominant side of their partners, who are often firstborns.  The lastborn personality seems to invite a parenting response from others, though this may not be obvious before marriage.  The spontaneous, vivacious, playful characteristics of a lastborn that are attractive in courtship are also the impulsive, temperamental, irresponsible traits that drive a firstborn spouse crazy.

If you are a lastborn, beware of your tendency toward self-centeredness.

The Middle Child.  The designation of “middle child” applies to anyone born between the first and last child.  The middle child is the one with the fewest photos in the family album, and the most hand-me-down clothes in his wardrobe.  Like a wheel that doesn’t squeak, middle children are easy to overlook.

While the parents’ responses to the oldest and youngest kids tend to be fairly predictable, responses to middle children vary.  Where middle children “fit” will tend to be influenced primarily by other factors, particularly the number, ages, and gender of their siblings.

Personality development of the middle child is probably most strongly determined by the personality of the older sibling.  Because the middle position has no inherent uniqueness, these children need to seek out a special identity within the family.  Some middle children become competitors in order to earn a place of recognition in the family, while others are invisible children, unable to gain recognition.

The competitor feels he or she has to earn a place of recognition within the family.  Generally unable to successfully take over the role occupied by the firstborn sibling, this child develops other areas around which to develop an identity.  If the firstborn has found an area in which to excel, the second child will typically develop skills in some opposite area:

  • If the firstborn is rebellious, the second born will be compliant.
  • If the firstborn is an athlete, the second born will be a scholar or musician.
  • If the firstborn is social and outgoing, the second born will be quiet and introspective.
  • If the firstborn is structured and organized, the second born will be random and spontaneous.

The invisible child cannot find a place of recognition within the family.  For a number of possible reasons, he or she is not rewarded for success in any particular area.  This is the child who eventually gives up on success, because whatever attempts he has made have met with frustration and failure.

Whatever form their personalities take, middle children are usually the members who function most independently of the family.  They tend to be more emotionally distant than other family members and their primary source of emotional support generally comes from outside the family, usually from their peers.

One experience universal to all middle children is that of having a comfortable role taken from them.  All middle children were at one point the lastborn.  The attention naturally showered on the baby of the family once belonged to them, until younger brother or sister came along.

In a marriage relationship, middle children can be hard to get close to emotionally.  Since these people naturally adapt to those around them, it may be difficult to determine what middle children actually feel.  Uncomfortable with conflict or confrontation, they may withdraw in silence rather than face these problems directly.  Middle children may passively choose to live with hurt and offense rather than “make waves”.

The Only Child.  Only children often become an interesting blend of traits common in both the firstborn and lastborn children.  Their behavior, perspectives, and reactions are typical of firstborns, but emotionally they are very similar to lastborn children.

Since their parent’s expectations are usually high, as they are for firstborn children, only children tend to be performers and high achievers.  They have a tendency toward perfectionism, and their verbal skills are usually well above average.  These are all characteristics shared with firstborn children.

The other side of the coin is that only children spend their formative years being the “main event” of their parents’ lives.  Similar to the experience of many lastborn children, being the focus of attention often becomes part of the only child’s expectations of life.

The personality of the only child may take on two general directions, that of treasured only or structured only, depending on the circumstances of birth.

The treasured only is the only child whose parents had a desire for more children but for one reason or another were able to have only one.  The focus of attention, time, and energy, often results in a child who may have difficulty sharing the spotlight with others and who is seen as being spoiled or self-centered.

The structured child is the child whose parents had only one child because they chose to have only one child.  They planned their family this way and stuck to their plan.  In any case, these parents are generally well-organized, self-disciplined planners.  The household tends to be a fairly structured, disciplined home and child develops in accord with this atmosphere.  This family often expects the child to be a miniature adult, so the child tends to behave maturely but feels uncomfortable among peers.

In either case, the only child grows up relating closely with adults rather than other children.  He or she may not learn to interact comfortably with peers, though feeling very at ease with authority figures.  Only children tend to be less spontaneous and playful than other children, and while their verbal skills are usually very good, they may be the least talkative in a group.  They often have difficulty developing close relationships and frequently describe themselves as lonely.  As these discomforts are generally kept inside, only children appear to cope fairly well in life.  As adults they frequently appear very confident and self-assured in social situations, but inwardly they feel vaguely uncomfortable, insecure and ill at ease.

In a marriage relationship, only children often struggle to cope with the idiosyncrasies of another personality.  Normal mood changes in their partners are especially frustrating and confusing for only children.  While they may deeply love, care for, and enjoy their partners, only children tend to be most comfortable when alone.

Twins.  The placement of twins in birth order is more complex than that of single birth children.  For example, in twins born to a family with an older sibling, the older twin will develop characteristics of a second-born and younger twin will take on the role of the third born sibling.  Most twins know which of them was born first.  This may indicate the family’s tendency to respond to them according to their birth order and reinforce these characteristics.  Twins as a unit generally have a very special place in the family – twins are special, and they usually know it.

When a child is born after a childless gap of six years or more, the birth order usually starts over.  Because of their age difference, they will probably never spend much time with each other.

Parenting: Setting Boundaries and Applying Consequences with Compassion

SOURCE:  Kim Fredrickson

It’s not easy to find the sweet spot of setting boundaries and applying consequences without accidentally shaming our kids. Setting limits with compassion is so important for our children’s self-esteem, ability to set their own boundaries and relationship with themselves.

Developmental 101

Simply put, children come out as a “blob.” They are wonderful creations made by God, but they know nothing about boundaries or right from wrong.

As far as they know everything is all good. They want what they want, and they want it now. There is no one else to consider but them. Boundaries are a rude awakening for them. This perspective is normal when they are little. Remembering these truths will help us have compassion for our kids.

As parents, we set external boundaries for them to follow so they know what’s okay, and not okay. It takes thousands of repetitions over lots of time, for them to develop their own internal conscience to guide them to do what is right in how they treat others and themselves.

We want to teach our children boundaries with love and not with shame. We don’t want them to feel shame inside when corrected. Shame says, “I am a bad person,” rather than “what I did was wrong.” When we set boundaries, we want them to come away with the idea that, “That was wrong for me to do, but I’m still a good person, and Mommy and Daddy still love me.” 

The truth is they are not bad. They’re little kids who are learning difficult lessons about right and wrong. We want them to come away with, “I was supposed to do my chores and I didn’t, so now I can’t watch my favorite show” versus “I didn’t do my chores, and now I’m a bad person.”

When we set healthy boundaries, we want the consequences to teach them about reality. We don’t want shame to cause internal self-hatred.

Three Main Ways to Teach Boundaries

We can teach them about boundaries by:

Teaching –“If you hit your brother you’ll have to sit for a timeout.” or “If you hit your brother, you’ll have to do his chores this week.”

Modeling – Kids learn from watching what we do. We are their primary models for setting boundaries and handling life. They observe how we handle frustrations, get along with others and solve problems. They watch how we take care of ourselves, the language we use, and the way we drive. They watch to see how we handle the daily responsibilities of life. It causes confusion when we tell them, “You need to follow through, clean your room, or share with your sister,” but don’t follow through ourselves.

Experience – As we follow through with consequences, they will internalize reality. They need to feel the reality that when they don’t clear their dishes, they don’t get dessert.

We Reap What We Sow

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” Galatians 6:7

They need us to teach them that actions have natural consequences. This is how life works. We need to give them an environment of reality. If “A” happens, then “B” happens. Without meaning to, we may jump in and rescue our kids from the natural consequences they need to experience in order to learn from their mistakes.

If we are too fuzzy with our boundaries, they will go into the world and expect other people to be lax with them too. Sometimes parents put up with behavior that no one in their future life will put up with. Teaching them reality gently will help them to be able to go out into the world, live with societal rules and be successful in life.

We Need to See the Big Picture

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however,
 it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11

It’s hard to discipline our children. We love them and don’t want them to be unhappy or mad at us. What helped me stay consistent was reminding myself of the big picture. I parented with my children’s long-term character development in mind. If we just look at the moment, we may not understand that the boundary we are enforcing is about developing our child’s character.

The boundary I’m setting at age two is about preparing my child for his teenage years. I want him to learn self-control over many years so that he is ready to handle peer pressure when it comes.

Making sure my daughter cleans up her room is about helping her complete unwanted responsibilities, so she can have a successful career and relationships. With every boundary, I realize I am shaping their character, which will determine the future of their lives.

When our son just turned two, he was trying out disobeying. His baby sister was six months old, and he decided he really wanted her toys, even though he knew he shouldn’t take them. I told him that I understood that he wanted her toys, but he could not take them from her. If he did, he would get a timeout.

Of course, he kept taking them. I followed through by telling him why this was wrong and put him in a short time out each time it happened. I remember thinking after the third time out, that this could really get out of hand if I didn’t keep on top of it.

I didn’t see him as a rebellious child. I saw him as a two-year-old who was developing his sense of self and realized he wanted some things. Our son learned that he couldn’t take his sister’s toys without experiencing a negative consequence himself. This was the beginning of developing self-control, delayed gratification, and being kind to others.

It may strike you as a lot of work to apply boundaries and limits in a consistent and kind way. The truth is it is. I always reminded myself that I could ‘pay now’ by consistently setting boundaries and applying consequences, or ‘pay later’ with a child a few years older who was out of control. The price tag is smaller when they are young.

Your Child’s Job

The reality is that our child’s job is to test our resolve so he/she can learn about reality. They don’t know what reality is like. It’s like they are in a maze, trying different things to see what works and what doesn’t. They aren’t usually trying to do the wrong thing. They rely on us to give them a picture of how the world works.

Your Job

Your job is to withstand the tests, and not take the pushing of your boundaries personally. This means knowing your limits, stating the boundaries and consequences clearly, and standing firm to apply logical consequences. Part of the job is to not be surprised when our precious children pout, throw a tantrum, are angry with us or turn away. We give them a gift when we endure their displeasure with us so that they will learn how to be successful, functional adults someday.

Nobody’s perfect. It’s better to shoot for being consistent overall. Nobody’s consistent every day. I’m not. It’s okay to apologize when we’re wrong because that’s how our kids will learn to do this too.

Tips for Setting Boundaries 

  • Don’t forget the love, empathy, and validation. Setting boundaries are so much easier when we have the attitude that we are teaching and guiding our children rather than punishing them.
  • Make sure the consequence fits the crime.
  • Make sure you use “logical consequences,” not shame, guilt, or anger.
  • Comment on what they did, not who they are (you did the wrong thing, not you’re a bad kid).
  • The younger the child, the more immediate the consequence.
  • With very small kids…
    • Say no firmly.
    • Use time-outs.
    • Remove them from the situation.
    • Put the toy in time-out.
  • With older kids…
    • If they’re late for dinner, they might miss dinner.
    • A story will be available at 7:30 to all who have their PJs on and teeth brushed.
    • I’m happy to get your school supplies with twenty-four-hours’ notice, otherwise, you’ll have to be creative and make do.
    • If chores are not completed by 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, some of your allowances will be used to pay your sister to do your chores.
    • Snack will be available after you put your blocks away.

It’s okay to give extra understanding when children are going through a special circumstance, such as parents’ divorce, separation, new baby, or a parent or child illness. This doesn’t mean you let things go. It means you show them compassion by acknowledging the hard time they are going through, giving them extra time and attention, and helping them follow through.

Learning to set clear boundaries with compassion is a very important part of parenting. How we establish and enforce these boundaries also makes a huge difference. It’s not too late to start setting consistent boundaries with your children…and don’t forget the compassion!

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Give Your Kids a Break: Parenting with Compassion for You and Your Children by [Fredrickson, Kim]

An Age-By-Age Guide to Helping Kids Manage Emotions

SOURCE:  Sanya Pelini/Parent Co.

We are all born with emotions, but not all those emotions are pre-wired into our brains. Kids are born with emotional reactions such as crying, frustration, hunger, and pain. But they learn about other emotions as they grow older.

There is no general consensus about the emotions that are in-built verses those learned from emotional, social, and cultural contexts. It is widely accepted, however, that the eight primary in-built emotions are anger, sadness, fear, joy, interest, surprise, disgust, and shame. These are reflected in different variations. For instance, resentment and violence often stem from anger, and anxiety is often associated with fear.

Secondary emotions are always linked to these eight primary emotions and reflect our emotional reaction to specific feelings. These emotions are learned from our experiences. For example, a child who has been punished because of a meltdown might feel anxious the next time she gets angry. A child who has been ridiculed for expressing fear might feel shame the next time he gets scared.

In other words, how we react to our kids’ emotions has an impact on the development of their emotional intelligence.

Emotional invalidation prevents kids from learning how to manage their emotions. When we teach kids to identify their emotions, we give them a framework that helps explain how they feel, which makes it easier for them to deal with those emotions in a socially appropriate way.

The emotions children experience vary depending on age:

Infants

Infants are essentially guided by emotions pre-wired into their brains. For instance, toddler cries are usually an attempt to avoid unpleasant stimuli or to move towards pleasant stimuli (food, touch, hugs).

Evidence suggests that, in the first six months, infants are capable of experiencing and responding to distress by adopting self-soothing behavior such as sucking. Other studies have found that toddlers develop self-regulation skills in infancy and are able to approach or avoid situations depending on their emotional impact.

How you can help

A recent study suggests that “listening to recordings of play songs can maintain six- to nine-month-old infants in a relatively contented or neutral state considerably longer than recordings of infant-directed or adult-directed speech.”

The study explains that multimodal singing is more effective than maternal speech for calming highly aroused 10-month-old infants. It also suggests that play songs (“The Wheels on the Bus” for instance) are more effective than lullabies at reducing distress.

Toddlers

By the time they turn one, infants gain an awareness that parents can help them regulate their emotions.

As they grow out of the infancy stage, toddlers begin to understand that certain emotions are associated with certain situations. A number of studies suggest that fear is the most difficult emotion for toddlers. At this age, parents can begin using age-appropriate approaches to talk to kids about emotions and encourage them to name those emotions.

By the time they turn two, kids are able to adopt strategies to deal with difficult emotions. For instance, they are able to distance themselves from the things that upset them.

How you can help

Situation selection, modification, and distraction are the best strategies to help kids deal with anger and fear at this age, according to one study. In other words, helping toddlers avoid distressing situations or distracting them from those situations is one of the most effective emotion-regulation strategies.

As they grow older, toddlers can be taught to handle those situations by themselves. Indeed, they are capable of understanding different emotions and of learning different self-regulation methods that can help them deal with difficult situations. Providing toddlers with an appropriate framework can help them learn how to manage those emotions by themselves.

Naming emotions also helps toddlers learn that emotions are normal. Every day opportunities provide occasions to talk to kids about emotions: “He sure looks angry.” “Why do you think he looks so sad?”

Toddlers also learn about managing their emotions by watching us.

Childhood

Kids experience many emotions during the childhood years. Many secondary emotions come into play at this age as a child’s emotions are either validated or invalidated, influencing future emotional reactions.

Children are able to understand and differentiate appropriate from inappropriate emotional expressions, but they still find it hard to express their emotions, especially if they haven’t learned to identify and name them.

How you can help

Emotion regulation is not just about expressing emotions in a socially appropriate manner. It is a three-phase process that involves teaching children to identify emotions, helping them identify what triggers those emotions, and teaching them to manage those emotions by themselves. When we teach kids that their emotions are valid, we help them view what they feel as normal and manageable.

Modeling appropriate behavior is also important during the childhood years. The best way to teach your child to react to anger appropriately is to show her how. Evidence suggests that kids pick up our emotions, and that those exposed to many negative emotions are more likely to struggle.

Ultimately, helping kids manage their emotions begins by validating those emotions and providing an environment in which they feel safe to express them. As several studies have shown, kids who feel safe are more likely to develop and use appropriate emotion regulation skills to deal with difficult feelings.

Chores, teamwork and high expectations: The 15 habits that raise responsible kids

SOURCE:  Dr. Laura Markham/Motherly

We all want to raise responsible children. And we all want to live in a world where others have been raised to be responsible, a world where adults don’t shrug off their responsibilities as citizens. So how do we raise our kids to take responsibility for their choices and their impact on the world?

You begin by seeing responsibility as something joyful for your child, instead of a burden.

All children want to see themselves as “response-able”—powerful and able to respond to what needs to be done. They need this for their self-esteem, and for their lives to have meaning.

So, you don’t really need to teach them to handle themselves responsibly in the world; you just need to teach them they have the power to contribute positively and relate to them so they want to do so.

If you focus on helping your child take charge of his life, and support him as necessary to learn each new skill, your child will want to step into each new responsibility. Instead of your holding him responsible, he becomes motivated to take responsibility for himself. It’s a subtle shift, but it makes all the difference in the world. The bottom line is that kids will be responsible to the degree that we support them to be.

Here are 15 everyday strategies guaranteed to increase your child’s “response-ability” quotient.

1. Raise your child with the expectation that we always clean up our own messes.

Begin by helping your child, until she learns it. She’ll learn it faster if you can be cheerful and kind about it and remember not to worry about spilled milk.

Encourage her to help by handing her a sponge as you pick one up yourself, even when it’s easier to do it yourself. As long as you aren’t judgmental about it—so she isn’t defensive—she’ll want to help clean up and make things better.

So when your toddler spills her milk, say “That’s ok. We can clean it up,” as you hand her a paper towel and pick one up yourself.

When your preschooler leaves her shoes scattered in your path, hand them to her and ask her to put them away, saying kindly “We always clean up our own stuff.”

You will have to do this, in one form or another, until they leave your home. But if your approach is positive and light-hearted, your child won’t get defensive and whine that you should do the cleanup. And when kids hear the constant friendly expectation that “We always clean up our own messes…Don’t worry, I’ll help….Here are the paper towels for you; I’ll get the sponge…” they become both easier to live with and better citizens of the world.

2. Kids need an opportunity to contribute to the common good.

All children contribute to the rest of us in some way, regularly. Find those ways and comment on them, even if it is just noticing when she is kind to her little brother or that you enjoy how she’s always singing. Whatever behaviors you acknowledge will grow.

As your children get older, their contributions should increase appropriately, both within and outside the household. Kids need to grow into two kinds of responsibilities: their own self care, and contributing to the family welfare. Research indicates that kids who help around the house are also more likely to offer help in other situations than kids who simply participate in their own self care.

Of course, you can’t expect them to develop a helpful attitude overnight. It helps to steadily increase responsibility in age appropriate ways. Invite toddlers to put napkins on the table, three-year-olds to set places. Four-year-olds can match socks, and five-year-olds can help you groom the dog. Six-year-olds are ready to clear the table, seven-year-olds to water plants, and eight-year-olds to fold laundry.

3. Remember that no kid in his right mind wants to do chores.

Unless you want your child to think of contributing to the family as drudgery, don’t make him do chores without you until they are a regular part of your family routine and one that your child does not resist. Your goal isn’t getting this job done, it’s shaping a child who will take pleasure in contributing and taking responsibility.

Make the job fun. Give as much structure, support, and hands-on help as you need to, including sitting with him and helping for the first thirty times he does the task, if necessary. Know that it will be much harder than doing it yourself. Remind yourself that there’s joy in these tasks, and communicate that, along with the satisfaction of a job well done. Eventually, he will be doing these tasks by himself, and that day will come much faster if he enjoys them.

4. Always let children “do it myself” and “help,” even when it’s more work for you.

And it will always be more work for you. But toddlers want desperately to master their physical worlds, and when we support them to do that, they step into the responsibility of being “response-able.”

So instead of rushing through your list, reframe. You’re working with your child to help him discover the satisfaction of contribution. That’s more important than having the job done quickly or perfectly. Notice that you’re also bonding, which is what motivates kids to keep contributing.

5. Rather than simply giving orders, try asking your child to do the thinking.

For instance, to the dallying child in the morning, instead of barking “Brush your teeth! Is your backpack packed? Don’t forget your lunch!” you could ask, “What’s the next thing you need to do to get ready for school?”

The goal is to keep them focused on their list, morning after morning until they internalize it and begin managing their own morning tasks.

6. Provide routines and structure.

These are crucial in children’s lives for many reasons, not the least of which is that it gives them repeated opportunities to manage themselves through a series of not especially inviting tasks.

First, they master the bedtime routine and cleaning up toys and getting ready in the morning. Then they develop successful study habits and grooming habits. Finally, they learn basic life skills through repetition of household routines like doing laundry or making simple meals.

7. Teach your child to be responsible for her interactions with others.

When your daughter hurts her little brother’s feelings, don’t force her to apologize. She won’t mean it, and it won’t help him. Instead, listen to her feelings to help her work out those tangled emotions that made her snarl at him.

Then, once she feels better, ask her what she can do to make things better between them. Maybe she’ll be ready to apologize. But maybe that will feel like losing face, and she would rather repair things with him by reading him a story or helping him with his chore of setting the table, or giving him a big hug.

This teaches children that their treatment of others has a cost and that they’re responsible for repairs when they do damage. But because you aren’t forcing, she’s able to choose to make the repair, which makes it feel good, and makes her more likely to repeat it.

8. Support your child to help pay for damaged goods.

If kids help pay from their own allowance for lost library books and cell phones, windows broken by their baseball, or tools they’ve left out to rust, the chances of a repeat infraction are slim.

9. Don’t rush to bail your child out of a difficult situation.

Be available for problem solving, helping him work through his feelings and fears, and to ensure that he doesn’t just sidestep the difficulty. But let him handle the problem himself, whether it requires offering an apology or making amends in a more concrete way.

10. Model responsibility and accountability.

Be explicit about the responsible choices you’re making:

“It’s a pain to carry this trash till we get to the car, but I don’t see a trashcan and we never litter.”

“This sign says parking is reserved for handicapped people, so of course we can’t take that spot.”

Keep your promises to your child, and don’t make excuses. If you don’t follow through when you promise to pick up that notebook he needs for school or play that game with him on Saturday, why should he be responsible for keeping his promises and agreements with you?

11. Never label your child as “irresponsible”

Never label your child as “irresponsible,” because the way we see our kids is always a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, teach him the skills he needs to be responsible.

If he always loses things, for instance, help him develop the skills he needs. For instance, teach him to stop anytime he leaves somewhere—his friend’s house, school, soccer practice—and count off everything he needs to take home.

12. Teach your child to make a written schedule.

It may seem like overkill, but in our busy 21st-century lives, all kids need to master this skill by high school, or they simply won’t get everything done.

Begin on weekends during middle school, or earlier, if their schedule is busy. Just take a piece of paper, list the hours of the day on the left, and ask your child what he needs to get done this weekend. Put in the baseball game, piano practice, the birthday party, and all the steps of the science project—shop for materials, build the volcano, write and print out the description. Add in downtime—go for ice cream with dad, chill and listen to music.

Most kids find this keeps their stress level down since they know when everything will get done. Most important, it teaches them to manage their time and be responsible for their commitments.

13. All kids need the experience of working for pay.

All kids need the experience of working for pay, which teaches them real responsibility in the real world. Begin by paying your 8-year-old to do tasks you wouldn’t normally expect of him (washing the car, weeding the garden), then encourage him to expand to odd jobs in the neighborhood (walk the neighbor’s dog or offer snow shoveling service in the winter), move on to mother’s helper/babysitting jobs when it’s age appropriate, and finally take on after school or summer jobs. Few settings teach as much about responsibility as the world of working for pay outside the family.

14. Create a no-blame household.

We all, automatically, want to blame someone when things go wrong. It’s as if fixing blame might prevent a recurrence of the problem, or absolve us of responsibility.

In reality, blaming makes everyone defensive, more inclined to watch their back and to attack than to make amends. It’s the number one reason kids lie to their parents.

Worse yet, when we blame them, kids find all kinds of reasons it wasn’t really their fault—at least in their own minds—so they’re less likely to take responsibility and the problem is more likely to repeat.

Blame is the opposite of unconditional love.

So why do we do it? To help us feel less out of control, and because we can’t bear the suspicion that we also had some role, however small, in creating the situation.

Next time you find yourself automatically beginning to blame someone, stop. Instead, accept any responsibility you can—it’s good practice to model this by overstating your responsibility, without beating yourself up. Then, just accept the situation. You can always come up with better solutions from a state of acceptance than a state of blame.

15. Teach your kids that, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, they not only have the right to be an individual, they have an obligation to be one.

Studies show that people who take responsibility in any given situation are people who see themselves as willing to be different and stand out.

That’s the kind of kid you want to raise.

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