Story of My Life: Connecting the Generations

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No, this is not an article about your favorite band, One Direction. Sorry to disappoint. 🙂 But keep reading, and you’ll see why the title is quite appropriate.

Who Do You Know?

How much do you know about your parents? Your grandparents? I know you probably grew up with them. But that doesn’t mean that you know the intimate details about their lives . . . especially before they were parents.

I have found that even in my closest relationships, you can learn a great deal about a person from asking them the right questions. It is so easy to take those we care about for granted. To assume we know everything there is to know about them. This has certainly been the case with me. I live about 2 ½ hours from my parents, but I visit them fairly often. Recently, I have tried to ask them more questions about their lives, their feelings, their stories, and so forth. Then I just listen. And then ask follow-up questions. Wow!

My father’s health has been slowly deteriorating for several years. Things are not looking promising. So I’ve decided to sit down and interview him in order to glean as much wisdom and as many experiences as I can. I hope this can be part of our legacy as a family. My children, my wife, my siblings, and beyond will benefit greatly from these stories. But don’t just take my word for it.

Connecting Generations Through Story

Family stories, such as those passed from previous generations, act like a chain that link together family members throughout time. It gives children a sense of who they are and how to approach life. Generational stories also have several other tremendous benefits.

When 2 psychologists from Emory University worked with children before and after the 9/11 terror attacks, they found that “the ones who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress.”

The researchers concluded: “The more children knew about their families’ histories, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher self-esteem, and the more successfully they believe their families functioned.”

But we can’t just pass on the greatest hits of our ancestors; they need to be real individuals with real challenges. The bitter with the sweet. For example, “We’ve had ups and downs in our family, and here is how we overcame our trials.”

Not only do inter-generational stories help in the long-term, but they also have more immediate benefits as well!

A study from Oxford University showed that teenagers whose grandparents were activelstory generationsy involved in their lives were happier. They had fewer emotional and behavior problems and got along with their peers better.  “Close relationships between grandparents and grandchildren buffer the effects of adverse life events,” the researchers said.  

Another study from the U.S. showed that grandparents have a positive influence on their grandchildren that is distinct from parent-child relationships. When grandparents stayed connected and involved with their grandkids, the children in both single parent and two-parent families “were kinder to others outside their immediate family and friends — and, in some cases, smarter.”

The bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.

Great Granddaddy Knew

One of the primary reasons that generational stories are so impactful is that they tell about love and sacrifice. Indeed, leaving a lot of wealth to posterity may be desirable for some, but leaving a legacy of love will go much, much further. I share a portion of the lyrics from a song written by one of my best friends (who’s also an old bandmate):

Some people leave lots of money
For their children when they go
But no, not my grandfather
All we got from him was love.

Late a couple nights ago, my youngest on his tippy toes,
overheard his daddy cryin’.
I was sayin’ something to the Lord
Like “I wish I could give him more”
when my baby intervened.

He said: Daddy why are you crying?
Stop apologizing
All that I’ve ever wanted was to be loved by you.
Cause that’s what your daddy gave you
And that’s what his daddy gave him
Great granddaddy knew, that you would love me too.
Great granddaddy knew.

So What Are You Waiting For?

When and how can parents and grandparents share these stories with their children? If you aren’t currently holding annual family reunions, take the bull by the horns and get on it. It only takes one person to start a fire.

Set aside time to do interviews with family members! One author gives the following recommendations:

Well-crafted, open-ended questions can yield fruitful results when you interview family for purposes of family history. Take time to tailor the questions to the person you are interviewing.

When you are ready to conduct an interview, have the questions in front of you to make sure you are getting the information you desire. Conversations about family can go many directions. When possible, record the interview on audio or video.

The article goes on to list 150 possible questions you could ask! I highly recommend you use this reference as a guide.

Don’t wait until they’re sick or gone. You never know what the future holds. Start today with a few drips, and then over time, it can become a flood of family stories for you and your posterity.

 

Please help us strengthen families by sharing this article with your friends and family! Likewise, to see more of Dr. Tim’s articles (as well as articles by Dr. Rob), please also check out the rest of our blog and our Facebook page.

Why Play with Your Kids? It Might Make All the Difference!

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Ever had a conversation like this with your child?

Daughter: “Hey Mom! Let’s play ponies!”

Mom: “No thanks. I really don’t want to.”

Daughter: “What?! Why not? Don’t you like being with me?”

Mom: “Sure I do, honey. I like you . . . I just don’t like playing ponies. Ugh!”

Daughter: “What?”

Mom: “It just sounds very boring, and I’d rather look at my phone. Sorry.”

I’ll assume that you’ve never had this conversation with any of your children. And that’s a good start. But be honest: have you ever thought or felt something like this? If you were surveyed about your feelings regarding parental involvement, you’d likely be in favor of it. In fact, research shows that most parents feel strongly about the importance of parents spending time with their children.

But as the saying goes, easier said than done, right? And while many parents know that spending time with their kids matters, they may not know that the quality of that time matters too.

Quality Time

study published in 2015 found that the quality of time a parent spent with their child had a more positive impact than the quantity of time. In other words, simply being with your child is important, but what you’re doing when you’re with them matters even more.

Let me give you an example. I wear a dress shirt, tie, and slacks to work everyday. Some days when I get home from work I change into more casual clothes, but most of the time I’m too lazy and just take off my tie. A few days ago, I arrived home from work and went into my room to change my clothes. My 9-year-old daughter, Molly, followed me into my room and asked if I was changing my clothes. Here’s how the conversation went down:

Molly: “Dad, are you going to change your clothes?”

Me: “Yep.”

Molly: “Yes!” (excitedly)

Me: “What’s so exciting about me wearing different clothes?”

Molly: “Because it means that you’re our dad.”

Me: “But I’m always your dad . . . it doesn’t matter what I’m wearing. If I was wearing a dress I’d still be your dad.”

Molly: “I know, but it just feels different when you’re not wearing your work clothes. It feels like you are here with us and not at work or doing church stuff.”

The moral of this story is not to be more mindful of your wardrobe around your children, but to be more mindful of your mindset when you are with them. As Molly taught me, your kids notice when you’re present but not present, if you catch my drift.

Pause and Reflect

Now it’s your turn to practice!

Map out a typical day in your head and think through every circumstance when you are–or could be–physically with your child. Then try to picture the kind of interaction you usually have in each of those circumstances. Now take it a step further and reflect on how you are typically feeling or what you often think about when you are with your children. How often do you actually play with your children? And by “actually,” I mean no screens (that includes phones) and being fully present.

In order to spend the quality time our children deserve, we need to take time to think about our current parenting practices. Doing this reflective exercise is a good start to becoming a more mindful, intentional, and playful parent.

Yes, I said playful.

Benefits of Playplay child's work

Maria Montessori once said, “Play is the child’s work.” And truly, children gain so much through play!

The National Association for the Education for Young Children summarized 10 things every parent should know about play. Here are a few of them:

  • Children learn through play
  • Play is healthy
  • Play reduces stress
  • Play is more simple and complex than we think

Obviously, kids receive a lot of benefits from playing. While children need plenty of time to play alone, play with siblings, and play with friends, they also need time to play with you. It can be anything from playing make-believe to reading a book to playing board games. Whatever the activity, playing with your child strengthens your bond and allows your child to see a different side of you.

Let’s focus on pretend play for a moment. This kind of play really helps you get on your child’s level. Be silly and creative! Since you may feel a little out of your element, let your child take the lead. (And don’t worry, they’ll let you know when you’re doing the wrong voice for a particular stuffed animal.)

A friend of mine who is a family therapist told me about a father who came to therapy wanting ideas for how to “fix” his 5-year-old son that liked to play with dolls. This worried the father because he thought playing with dolls is girly. Instead, he hoped to play catch with his son. In response, my friend asked him to try playing dolls with his son for a whole week. After trying this for a week, the father reported through tears that he had never felt so close to his son. What’s more, his son even branched out to playing catch (the son’s idea) and other things as well.

How to Play

If you struggle finding the time or the desire to play with your children, here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Set your phone down
  2. Turn your tablet off
  3. Put your computer to sleep (starting to see a pattern here?)
  4. Put your own wants on hold
  5. Clean a little less, play a little more (or you could always make a game out of cleaning)
  6. Don’t be in such a hurry
  7. Just go with it!

These tips may seem like little things, but little things can make all the difference! Start small with your goals to improve. Be willing to give up lesser pursuits if necessary. And when you’re struggling to make the time to play with your kids, remember what one mommy blogger said:

[Parent]hood is not a hobby, it is a calling. You do not collect children because you find them cuter than stamps. It is not something to do if you can squeeze the time in. It is what God gave you time for.

So take off your tie, put away your cell phone, and make time to play with your kids today!

For more ideas on playing with your children, check out The Child Development Institute’s tips.

 

Please help us strengthen families by sharing this article with your friends and family! Likewise, to see more of Dr. Tim’s articles (as well as articles by Dr. Rob), please also check out the rest of our blog and our Facebook page.

How to Know Which Parenting Advice to Believe

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:

Are Your Children Learning or Simply Getting Grades?

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This is a big year for my family as we have all four children in school. Eleanor, (age 5) in particular started Kindergarten. She was so dang excited! Several times a day for a couple of weeks she would ask, “Does school start tomorrow?”

Not too long before this, my wife and I worried a bit about how Eleanor would handle this transition; in the past, she’s been slow to warm up to new things. After several days of asking about school starting, it was clear that it was going to be harder on Mom than on Eleanor.

The night before school started, Eleanor (and her sisters) laid out their school clothes and filled their backpacks with notebooks, pencils, and other school supplies. It almost seemed like Christmas Eve!

But why all the excitement? What is there to look forward to?

Certainly being with friends and wearing new clothes played into it. But deeper than that, I could tell that Eleanor was excited to learn. Learn more about reading, writing, drawing, basic math and much more!

But how many older children share the same passion for learning? What about us parents? You don’t need a research study to tell you that there is a connection between age and excitement. The older a child is, the less excited they probably are about school. Herein lies a key difference.

Learning and school are not the same thing in the mind of many students. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it’s unfortunately the reality of kids and schools today. Professor of education and author, Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D., believes that we are all born hungry to learn and creative, but it is educated and tested out of us. He elaborates below:

So, at the beginning of this school year, how do we keep the love of learning alive in our children and in ourselves (sometimes in spite of the school system)? There are plenty of options, but I’ll get you started with 3 principles to focus on.

1. Focus on Learning, Not Grades!

Alfie Kohn will introduce this principle below:

As Dr. Kohn discusses, getting caught up in performance can distract from actual learning. When you talk to your children about their subjects and classes, ask them about what they are learning and how it applies to life. Ask them about their efforts in the class. If your son brags about his A in math and how easy it was (like my son did), say something like: “I’m so glad you enjoy math! What did you like learning about the most?” Professor Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, counsels that parents should respond: “I’m sorry it was too easy and didn’t push you. Maybe we should try a higher level math where you can learn more.”

2. Get into Their Head.

One of my children kept telling us that there was no homework assigned in one of their classes and so we didn’t push it. When the report card finally came we saw a “C” in the class. (Here is where you are probably thinking I am going to be grade-focused….wrongo!)

So we sat down and asked some of the following questions: “Was this class really hard for you? Did you give your best effort? What did you learn?” Although we didn’t ask all these questions at once, we did learn that there had been a lot of homework not completed. Even more importantly we learned about how this child struggled with the subject and felt incompetent.

We kept the focus on learning and worked with them the next semester to incorporate better studying practices.

Sometimes we assume we know how our children learn and process different topics. While there is some truth to this, if we are not aware of what our children are learning at school, the homework they are assigned, how they feel about it and why, and the teaching style of their teachers . . . we won’t really know.

3. Have a Healthy Appetite Yourself.

Let’s say you prepare a meal for your family that you find quite disgusting, but you know it is healthy so you prepare it anyway. Now try to convince your children how good the food is while they see you choking it down. Kind of a hard sell.

The same goes for learning. If your kids never see you reading, developing a new skill, or just plain excited about new facts and ideas, then this tells us what they will learn about learning. In fact, one educational expert says that the most successful students have parents who model “a lifelong interest in learning.” So rekindle your love for learning by taking a community class, watch TED talks or documentaries, watch Do-It-Yourself (DIY) YouTube videos, take up gardening, or anything that gets you excited again!

Real learning will fuel your children’s development, and it will make you a better parent. It can increase life satisfaction and make for a better society. Stay curious. Stay hungry.

Welcome back to school!

 

Please help us strengthen families by sharing this article with your friends and family! Likewise, to see more of Dr. Tim’s articles (as well as articles by Dr. Rob), please also check out the rest of our blog and our Facebook page.

Does Talking about Pornography with Your Kids Give Them Ideas?

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Guest Writer: Dina Alexander, founder of Educate Empower Kids

Almost three years ago I had my first “porn talk” with my kids. This came about after reading a simple article about teens and their ever increasing access and inevitable use of pornography. As I read, I became frustrated, then scared and finally determined. I knew I had to educate my kids immediately about this danger, as well as every parent I came in contact with.

I didn’t have all the answers that first day, but it didn’t matter. I opened the door to a new dimension in my relationships with my three kids. A dimension that brought a closeness and unity to our family that was not there before.

Just days after this first talk, I began doing serious research into the devastating effects of porn consumption by children. I read, I dug, I pondered, I planned and within a few months I had created a non-profit organization. An organization that focuses on teaching parents how to create deep connections with their kids and start some pretty challenging conversations about the dangers of pornography, and its opposite, healthy sexuality.

In those first few months of researching, organizing and layering conversations with my kids, I had a tremendous worry. Was I “giving my kids ideas” (or creating an unhealthy curiosity that was not there before)?

The answer became apparent. Yes! I was “giving them ideas.”

And I want you to give your children the same ideas.

Give your kids the idea that you are a great source of reliable, honest information.  Let them know through your words and actions that you can speak calmly, comfortably and rationally about human issues that affect all of us, namely, curiosity and sexuality. As you initiate discussions about these topics and pornography, share your personal experiences, spiritual values and expectations kindly and thoughtfully, your child will soon get the idea that his parents are human and make mistakes.  They will also see that you are ready to talk about “tough” topics and more importantly, listen to them. I promise you as you answer your kids questions openly and sincerely and they will come back to you for your wisdom and empathy.

I also want you to give your kids the idea that there is nothing shameful or “awkward” in asking questions about and discussing one of the most amazing experiences available to human beings: true intimacy expressed through sexuality. By discussing the positive aspects of sex, you can help them know that sexual intimacy is good, beautiful and enjoyable. Follow this up with a discussion about healthy sexuality’s opposite: pornography. Take the time to explain how porn is the opposite of intimacy, can be addictive, can condition the brain, harm relationships and damage a person’s ability to relate and empathize with others.

Finally, if you continue these discussions at each stage of development, your child will get the idea that curiosity is a God-given gift. He will get the idea that his feelings and questions are normal and natural when you let him know that any question is okay and that you will not judge him harshly for asking ANYTHING.

So if you find yourself saying, “I don’t want to give them ideas.” My answer to you is “Yes! Yes you DO want to give them ideas!” By tackling these crucial topics, you and your child will grow closer together and she will know that she can rely on you to provide helpful information in a loving manner. Here are some topics to guide your conversations:

What Does a Younger Child Need to Know About Sexual Intimacy?

  • Protective Information (my body belongs to me, good touch/bad touch, how to say “no”)
  • Bodily Knowledge (anatomy, functions of anatomy, where do babies come from)
  • Relationship Basics (self-respect, respect for others, romantic love vs. friendships)
  • Media Savvy (healthy and unhealthy media messages, body image)
  • *When your child is ready, discuss the mechanics of sex

What Does a Younger Child Need to Know About Pornography?

  • What it is (define it)
  • Where it exists (smartphones, tablets, computers, etc.)
  • What to do when you see porn (Name it, Get away from it, Tell parents, Discuss feelings with seeing it, Deconstruct the images seen, How to prevent further exposure)
  • Why it should be avoided

What Does an Older Child/Teen Need to Know About Sexual Intimacy?

  • Sex is healthy and amazing
  • Intimacy (connecting with another human being) should be the focus
  • Positive and negative aspects of sex
  • Protective Information (consent, how predators groom kids/teens)
  • Bodily Knowledge (puberty, body image, masturbation, mechanics of sex)
  • Relationship Advice (self-worth, boundaries, healthy vs. abusive relationships)
  • Media Savvy (healthy/unhealthy media messages, sexting, social media)

What Does an Older Child/Teen Need to Know About Pornography?

  • There is an industry targeting him/her
  • It is addictiveIt destroys relationships
  • It is damaging to society
  • There is a way back from a porn habit/addiction

For more helpful information, conversation starters and great discussion questions for you and your kids, please check out How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography, 30 Days of Sex Talks, Empowering Your Child with Knowledge of Sexual Intimacy or 30 Days to a Stronger Child available on Amazon (LINK: http://amzn.to/1TEMnUr)

Is Your 5-year-old Teaching Others About Sex?

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“Let’s Talk About Sex”

When my son was 5-years-old, one of his neighbor friends told him about naked women he had seen in some pornographic picture or video. He said in a matter-of-fact way, “Let’s talk about sex.” This friend roamed the neighborhood A LOT and when he wasn’t roaming he was in front of a screen. His family was religious, loving, but unaware of what their boy was being exposed to.

On another occasion, a friend of mine once told me of witnessing a different 5-year-old boy in the neighborhood laying on top of a slightly older girl kissing her mouth and trying to do other things that the boy had apparently witnessed elsewhere. The girl seemed to be enjoying the attention. I’m sure (or at least hope) the parents of the boy would be mortified if they knew what their son was doing.

I could go on and on with stories about children learning and doing things that would horrify their parents. And to this day, these parents probably still don’t know about it.

Both of these stories have two things in common: 1. A young child was exposed to sexual images and then tried sharing or acting on it, and 2. The parents of these children were not involved enough to know what was happening, let alone offer guidance.

Pop Quiz

True or False: Putting your kids in a lot of activities is the same as you being involved in their life.

The answer: capital F-A-L-S-E!

Don’t worry. If you answered incorrectly, you can still make up the points by reading the rest of this article and then applying it.

There is a disturbing trend in much of our society that is going undetected. It is this:

We parents are not effectively involved in our children’s lives and this is leaving them vulnerable to unhealthy messages about love and sex.

Now before you start to despair because you already feel over-booked with your kids lives, or before you begin to attack me….hear me out.

Oblivious to the Obvious?

There are several reasons why this problem is going undetected. Some of the reasons are legitimate while others are merely excuses. This is certainly not meant to be an exhaustive list.

  1. The illusion of involvement. We may feel that ensuring that our children are busy with soccer, gymnastics, piano, clubs, etc is how we stay involved in their life. Because we take them from place to place and book their schedules it can give us a false sense of involvement. Quality of involvement is as important–if not more so–than quantity.
  2. Parental freedom. The more we keep our kids occupied, the more we can get done. We can spend more time cleaning the house, at work, or on screens (TV, Facebook, etc).
  3. Uninformed voters. Many parents are simply unaware of the negative consequences of under-involved parenting. They could think: “I played outside all day and had very few personal interactions with my parents growing up and I turned out okay.”

I know that you want to your child to not just survive, but thrive. Your heart is all in! But it is possible to love a child totally and completely but not in the way her or she needs. It is possible for your child to be involved in so many activities without you actually being involved in their life.

Busy Doesn’t Mean Involved

Dr. Laurence Steinberg wrote:

Being an involved parent takes time and is hard work, and it often means rethinking and rearranging your priorities. It frequently means sacrificing what you want to do for what your child needs you to do.

Did you know that the strongest and most consistent predictor of children’s mental health, adjustment, happiness, and well-being is the level of involvement of their parents in their life?

Children with involved parents are also more likely to share if they have been exposed to pornography or if someone has touched them inappropriately.

Ok. To be completely honest, this article is about more than just parental involvement. I’m really just building up to talking to your kids about intimacy, sexuality, and its counterfeits. But, how can we teach and influence our children about these things if we don’t understand their hearts and minds? How can we understand their hearts and minds if we aren’t effectively involved?

Porn Kills Love

In our day and age, our children are going to be exposed to pornography. The question is not so much if they are going to see it, but when. We cannot control the choices of peers, the parents of our peers, and many, many other sources. Yet, the more connected and effectively involved we are, the more influence and guidance we can offer.

A student recently told me that her best friend was sexually abused as a child. Sadly, her friend kept it from her parents for many years because she didn’t know how to talk to them about it. In her friends’ home, they didn’t talk about the body, intimacy, and so on. It was taboo. She is now receiving therapy and getting the help she needs. But if this girl had a more open, communicative relationship with her parents, those years of guilt and depression could have been minimized. 

So What Do I Do?

You’re probably wondering how to become effectively involved in your child’s life to the point you can have regular chats about love, intimacy, and pornography. Stay tuned! I will be blogging about this and also publishing an ebook about this at the end of June.

Our friends at Educate Empower Kids (EEK) have created some fantastic materials to help parents guide their children. Check out 30 Days of Sex Talks and How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography. Check out this powerful video below by EEK that I feel summarizes what I’ve been trying to say.


Please help us strengthen families by sharing this article with your friends and family! Likewise, to see more of Dr. Tim’s articles (as well as articles by Dr. Rob), please also check out the rest of our blog and our Facebook page.

 

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