I still remember the first time I gave a Christmas present as a child. I had carefully chosen a few things from the school book fair that I knew my siblings were just going to love: a pink fluffy pen for my sister and a small teddy bear figurine for my little brother. While the gifts were simple, I was excited to share some things I liked with people I loved.
Though I really loved giving gifts, at first my Christmases were all about getting. And with all the wish lists for Santa and Christmas ads on TV, it’s easy for children to focus on themselves. But how can we help our children get excited not just about getting, but also about giving? Here are a few ideas.
1. Give to the community.
There are so many needs all over the world that it can be hard to know where to start. But a great way to give is to serve close to home! Check out www.justserve.org for ideas on how to help out in your communities. Whether it’s volunteering at your local soup kitchen or helping out at the animal shelter, serving as a family in the community can really help your kids learn to give this Christmas.
2. Give to individuals in need.
Sometimes we may feel overwhelmed by big service projects. But giving in small ways can be just as meaningful! Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd teaches that parents can help their kids expand their circle of concern by teaching them to find people who might need help, such as a lonely classmate or a kid who is bullied. As you help your kids find people in need and then serve them, your children will think a little more about giving and less about getting.
3. Give to each other.
Sometimes we forget that one of the best places to practice giving is in our homes! Kids can practice giving every day as they interact with parents and siblings. And as Dr. Weissbourd explains, that daily practice is vital: “Learning to be caring is like learning to play a sport or an instrument. Daily repetition . . . makes caring second nature.” Whether it’s giving a small gift to a sibling for Christmas or having a *family service advent calendar, serving each other will help your kids focus more on what Christmas is really about.
‘Tis the Season to Give!
This Christmas time, take the time to teach your kids to give! As you help out in the community, reach out to individuals in need, and serve each other with love, your kids will learn that Christmas is about more than just getting.
*Every December, we created a special advent calendar. We would each draw 4 names randomly (there were 6 of us total, which worked out well) and write down a special act of service for that person. Maybe they would get breakfast in bed, maybe we’d do their chore for the day, or maybe we’d play their favorite game with them. Then all the papers were mixed up and pinned to the advent calendar. Each day, it would be someone’s turn to open a paper and see the special service promised. We were always so excited for our simple but special advent calendar!
I check my watch again: 3:45 am, and I’m wide awake. Exhausted, but awake.
Part of it is because I’m 8 months pregnant and my body hurts all over. (I think my body is practicing the no sleep thing for when the baby comes. 😛 )
But part of it is because I can’t stop thinking about my Facebook feed yesterday.
At first, I was confused by the two word status updates popping up everywhere: “Me too.” But then one friend wrote a little explanation along with it. She said, “If all the people who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too.” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Please copy and paste if you feel so inclined.”
As more and more of my friends joined in with their “Me too,” my heart ached. I didn’t know whether to click like, love, or sad. I was so proud of these brave women for speaking out, but so sad that we live in a world full of so much sexual harassment.
While sexual violence has fallen significantly since 1993, it’s still a huge problem today. In fact, statistics show that every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And if you’re a woman, you have about a 1 in 5 chance of being raped at some point in your life.
Everyone is affected by sexual harassment or assault a little bit differently. But often there are both physical and mental consequences. In addition to the risk of STIs and pregnancy, victims of sexual assault often struggle with PTSD, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. It can also cause more general emotional challenges, like difficulty trusting others or feelings of fear and helplessness.
One month from today, our baby girl is due to come into this world. I can’t help but worrying, will she have to post “me too” one day? Will she end up being part of the almost 20% of women who get raped in their lifetime? Will she have to struggle with the fear and pain that comes from being a victim of sexual harassment or assault?
I sincerely hope not.
While I’m grateful for the many women and men who are fighting against this plague of sexual violence, there are some aspects of our society today that seem to contribute in a negative way.
Many people are pushing back against sexual violence, but some of these same people are also advocating strongly for sexual exploration and freedom. This March while visiting the UN Commission on the Status of women, I heard many voices advocating for sexual rights of all kinds.
And to some extent, I’m grateful for the work that’s been done so far. I’m grateful that I can decide when I want to marry and have children, that I have control over my sex life.
On the other hand, it seems that the push for sexual freedom has had some unforeseen consequences. Dr. Leslie C. Bell explains it well:
“Today’s 20-something women have more freedom than their grandmothers could have imagined – educational, professional, and personal. But while this freedom has engendered a great deal of opportunity, it hasn’t necessarily resulted in women having good sex and satisfying relationships in their twenties.”
Much of the push for sexual freedom has placed an emphasis on our own personal fulfillment. Do whatever you want, whatever makes you feel good physically. Sex is about you, not about anyone else, today’s media seems to say.
Unfortunately, that emphasis on personal fulfillment may have had the opposite effect.
With all this sexual freedom, pursuing whatever you want physically, you may think it would lead to better sex. But according to research from Dr. John Gottman, perhaps the biggest key to sexual fulfillment is your friendship. While casual sex can be fun and exciting, one survey found that the happiest couples are those who communicate and build up the intimacy that is foundational for fulfilling sex. When sex is about your relationship, not just about you, it becomes a whole lot better.
So in actuality, it turns out that sexual fulfillment isn’t just about the physical. And it certainly isn’t just about you.
If we aren’t careful, the way we promote sexual freedom can also promote sexual selfishness. This selfishness will not only lead to less fulfilling sex, but it also can be dangerous. This line of thinking that says “Sex is all about me” is one that ignores the other person involved.
I’m sure those who rape or sexually assault others are, in a twisted way, seeking their own sexual pleasure. They have decided to use their sexual freedom selfishly. And unfortunately, they do this at a great cost to those around them.
Sexual Freedom Isn’t Free
In teaching our kids about their sexuality, we must help them realize that sexuality isn’t just about them. Other people are involved, people who deserve to be loved and respected.
As we push not just for sexual freedom but for mutual love and respect, we can achieve sexual freedom without promoting sexual selfishness. We can help our kids see that sexual freedom isn’t really free, because with these rights come great responsibilities.
Getting ready to welcome our baby girl into the world has put this all in a new light for me. I hope the numbers of sexual harassment and assault can continue to decline. I hope sincerely that she doesn’t become a part of the statistics. And I hope that one day, nobody has to say “Me too.”
When I first got married, I’m pretty sure that everyone and their dog wanted to give me marriage advice. Some advice was practical. Some was silly. And some was just plain wise!
As the advice poured in, I began to notice a simple but common theme: communication. The need to communicate openly, to talk about emotions, to make decisions together, to speak kindly to each other — these and more came up as important needs to address in marriage.
Most people who gave me advice had little to no qualifications (other than being married themselves). But perhaps not surprisingly, research backs up the importance of communication in marriage! A 2014 study found that both how much couples communicate as well as how they communicate can really affect relationship satisfaction.
Through one longitudinal study, Dr. John Gottman found four communication patterns that can be really damaging to a marriage and even lead to divorce. Watch this *short video clip from the Gottman Institute for an intro to them:
No matter how wonderful your spouse is, you’ll probably always find things you could complain about. Maybe they forgot to take out the trash, maybe they leave their socks on the floor, or maybe they forgot to tell you they’d be home late. Whatever it is, you’ve probably had something come up that rubs you the wrong way.
While complaining isn’t the healthiest of practices, it can be outright damaging when you let it shift into the realm of criticism. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. Gottman explains that while complaining “focuses on a specific behavior or event,” criticizing “expresses negative feelings or opinions about the other’s character or personality”. A complaint would say, “I’m upset that you didn’t take out the trash like we agreed.” On the other hand, a criticism blows up the issue by making it a personal attack, saying something like, “You never remember to take out the trash! I have to do everything around here.”
So how can we avoid this damaging criticism in our marriages?
The Antidote: Express your needs and feelings using “I” statements.
Instead of criticizing your spouse, try to let him or her know what your needs are. Next time you’re feeling frustrated about the garbage (or anything else, for that matter), say something like, “I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and it would really help if you could take the garbage out. Can we figure out a plan together?” It’s okay to tell your spouse what you need; what’s not okay is turning your frustration into an attack.
If criticism goes unchecked, it can turn into outright contempt for your spouse. Dr. Gottman says that when issues go unresolved in a marriage, you’re more likely to experience these negative thoughts that have boiled up.
In the garbage example, let’s say your spouse continues to forget to take out the trash. You started out complaining, then criticizing. As the issue isn’t addressed properly, you start to view your spouse differently. When your spouse tries to suggest a solution to the garbage problem, you just laugh and say, “Oh, like that’s going to change things! You’ll never step up and help.” This contemptuous response shows a level of disrespect and a lack of affection.
Clearly, contempt isn’t a healthy communication pattern to have. So what’s the best way to prevent contempt from seeping into our relationship?
The Antidote: Treat each other with respect and show appreciation.
Instead of rolling your eyes or answering sarcastically when your spouse suggests a solution, take a moment to acknowledge his or her efforts. Remember, your spouse is a person too and deserves the same respect you do!
I think most of us are familiar with the deadly horseman of defensiveness. It can be all too easy to respond defensively, especially if we’re feeling belittled or hurt. Being defensive is a natural way to respond to criticism or contempt in an effort to protect ourselves.
In the garbage scenario, a criticism such as, “You never remember to take out the trash!” may be met with a defensive response such as, “Well if you didn’t keep nagging me all the time about it, maybe we wouldn’t have a problem!” Defensiveness only escalates the problem and pushes blame onto your spouse.
But what can we do instead when we start feeling defensive?
The Antidote: Accept responsibility for your part.
This antidote takes a huge amount of humility. While it doesn’t always seem like it, most problems aren’t caused by just one person. Your spouse may be freaking out too much about the trash, but you can take a deep breath and acknowledge your part in the conflict: “I’m sorry, I should have taken out the trash today. I totally forgot.”
The last of the four horsemen is perhaps the most deadly. After a long time of repeated negative patterns, a partner can get really overwhelmed. In fact, one study shows that damaging communication can lead a partner to become emotionally flooded, leading the partner to try to avoid the conflict altogether. In order to steer clear of a total explosion, the partner may simply withdraw and disengage completely.
If this garbage scenario has been going on for long enough, along with frequent use of the other horsemen in communication, then stonewalling could become a problem. When one partner tries to bring up the issue, the other partner may turn on the TV or just tune out altogether.
While taking a break can be good, stonewalling isolates partners from each other and can get in the way of healthy and positive communication. So how can we overcome stonewalling?
The Antidote: Take a break and cool off, then come back to the conversation.
When a situation gets too emotionally charged, taking a break is a good thing. Let your spouse know you need to calm down a little, but that you do want to figure out how to solve the problem together. Odds are, a break will help both of you.
It turns out that no couple has perfect communication all the time — even those people who gave me marriage advice. But as you look for the four horsemen in your own communication and try to use the antidotes instead, your communication can improve. And better communication really just means a better marriage!
In order to really benefit from what you learned, how about some practice? This week, keep a log of the four horsemen in your marriage. Keeping track of when you fall into those patterns will help you be aware and start to make those changes.
The Family Good Things team would love to hear about your experiences! Comment below to let us know how this homework goes for you.
*Watch the rest of the video here for an explanation of the four horsemen and their antidotes according to the Gottman Institute.
With thousands of parenting websites, blogs, and books, it can be hard to know what to believe. Ever wondered what parenting advice you should actually listen to? In this brief video, Dr. Tim talks about five pointers for consuming online parenting advice:
Welcome to Family Good Things’s first ever video log! We have no idea what we’re doing. In fact, I don’t even know if you would call this a video log, or a vlog, or just a talking head… I don’t know! But we’re going to do it anyways. And what better way to kick this off than to give you advice about seeking advice online — about parenting, family, marriage, and anything else.
So what I’m going to do is I’m going to give you five principles to do (or to avoid, however you want to interpret it) when seeking parenting advice online. I decided to kick this off this way because recently a friend of mine on Facebook asked the parenting question, “My toddler’s doing this and this and this, and how do we get him to stop doing it?” Well, I think it was an honest question, and it was a fair question. A lot of the advice had the same common theme. So. Let’s just start into it.
Principle number one: Popularity isn’t proof.
Just because everybody’s saying that you should do this with your child or this is a good discipline strategy doesn’t necessarily make it healthy, or accurate, or even evidence-based. Now, as Dr. Rob and I both have PhD’s in this, we don’t try to act like we’re smarter than we really are, we do understand the value of research and we do investigate it. So. Just because it’s been shared countless times or it has millions of likes or thousands of likes, or your best friend liked it, shared it, doesn’t mean it’s actually best for your child. Okay?
Principle number two: Education should come before entertainment.
We all like to watch stand-up comedy, cat videos, and anything else that is mind-numbing and is a good break from the day. I love it. I think if you’re seeking parenting advice, it’s okay that you’re entertained by it. However, don’t make that your primary goal, because entertainment is wonderful and good, but it can’t be a replacement for value and usefulness in producing real change in you and your child. So be careful that as you’re seeking parenting advice you don’t simply just become entertained.
Principle number three (I guess that’s six, because three plus three is six) . . .
So principle number three is beware how much misery likes company.
One of the reasons I like to watch Supernanny is because I go, “Oh, at least I’m not as bad as those parents because they’re doing X, Y, and Z and they’re messing up their kids. I’m not that dumb!” One of the reasons we like to seek out certain types of blogs, because maybe it’s a mom or a dad gushing about how much they’ve screwed up. And I think that’s good, we need to be authentic. We need to realize there is no such thing as perfect parents. However, that can become a crutch or a hindrance to our progress and our change in our own parenting — and in our marriage — when we go to those blogs to feel better about doing bad things.
The phrase “misery likes company” is true, because we like to be with people who are angry about the same things, like the same things, have the same struggles, and therefore, we don’t ever evaluate, maybe this is not a healthy attitude, behavior, or belief. So. Mommy blogs are good. We love them. However, don’t go to ones just to make yourself feel better about screwing up and then therefore never changing.
Principle number four: Google can’t change your child, as much as we’d like to think so.
You need to be aware of quick fix strategies. We love Google, because we get instant answers. We love credit cards, we love fast food, we love smart phones. We love all these things because they give us instant gratification. But they’re all replacing, in an artificial and quick way, something that actually takes time, persistence, and patience. A lot of popular parenting advice focuses on getting a child to start acting or stop acting in a particular way. They don’t even question the assumption of maybe the parent’s coming from the wrong premise.
Which is kind of a segway into principle number five, but not yet. Character development is the most important thing we could focus on in our children. Shaping their desires and their character. Why? Because their desires and their character are going to be with them long after we are gone. When they’re with their friends, when they’re at school, when they grow up and move out . . . Their character and their desires will dictate their attitudes and behaviors. So. Google can’t change your child. Beware of quick-fix strategies.
Okay, final principle, number five: Avoid confirmation bias.
Again, we like to look for things that make us comfortable. When we ask questions, like this I think honest seeking mom on Facebook, “My child’s doing this. How do I discipline my toddler?” Sometimes we’re coming from the wrong premise. We’re asking the wrong question. We may not realize that, but we at least need to check our assumptions and not go in. Because if you ask . . . The computers say garbage in garbage out. If you ask a question that has the wrong premise, you’re going to get answers that confirm your premise. I hope that makes sense.
For example, how do I get my child to sleep through the night? They’re age four. Or to stop coming into my bedroom. Maybe there’s a different question we could ask that would help solve the problem more appropriately, even though that’s not a bad question. I think we all want our children to sleep through the night. Nobody wants to be zombies and try to parent when you’re — I’ve tried that before. Doesn’t work too well. Plus my kids don’t really like the *zombie noise* sound that comes out of me when I’m really frustrated and exhausted. So avoid confirmation bias. It’s also very easy to search for stuff that is comfortable and familiar. Don’t reject an idea outright just because it’s not something you’re used to. That being said, you don’t have to accept everything that comes your way through the online blogosphere and social media about parenting.
So, those are the five principles. Now, there’s going to be more to come. Don’t forget to share and like this. Maybe you’re going, “All of your principles undermine you even putting a video online.” I don’t care. I still think it’s good advice. Why? Because it’s me, and I have confirmation bias. Don’t forget to like and share this video. Also, don’t forget to purchase and read and apply Dr. Rob’s eBook which is called “3 Things You Can Do to Create a Ridiculously Happy Marriage.” Ridiculously happy marriage. I have an eBook that will be coming out shortly on father-daughter relationships. Okay, we’ll see you next time.