Tag: Brain Skills

When The Going Gets Tough…

Recently I walked into my sons’ bathroom to hang a towel. While placing the towel on a rack, I stepped into a puddle. Since this pool on the floor was close to the toilet, it was safe to assume what it was. “Really?” I uttered. Then I let out a loud, “YUCK!” I cringed and quickly stepped away. At this point I was feeling a combination of disgust and anger. I belted out, “Matthew and Andrew – Come Here, NOW!”

Once my sons arrived on the scene I asked about the puddle. My youngest son informed me he accidentally peed on the floor…by mistake. I raised my voice in frustration and asked, “Andrew, why didn’t you tell me, so that I could clean this up for you?” Andrew broke eye contact and his face quickly dropped.

Trying to solve the problem at hand, I turned my sights to busily cleaning the floor as well as my foot. As I calmed down I realized I was intense with Andrew over this situation. I did not act like my relational self with my son and he was feeling some shame.

I searched for Andrew to repair. Once I found him, I apologized for the way I handled the interaction and explained that I did not reflect my heart to him, which made me sad. I explained that IF I had been acting like myself, I would have first calmed myself then spoken with him in order to protect him from my anger.

Thankfully, even though I failed to stay my relational self in the moment, this was a good opportunity to paint a picture of what it would have looked like if I had acted like myself. I helped my sons understand what I would have preferred to do and say, compared to how I actually handled myself.

In last week’s example with the pancakes, I knew that I was too upset in the moment to interact with my sons when I discovered pancakes smashed into our living room rug. In this scenario, I stayed my relational self by protecting them from my anger because I took the time to calm myself and ask God for His perspective.

Sharing stories about the times we act like ourselves provides a framework for our children to discover what it could look like for them to remain their relational selves during big emotions and difficult circumstances. Of course, the “live” version is always ideal because our “in-the-moment” example goes a long way to demonstrate (and download) this important brain skill. Stories tend to be useful because we can practice and improve our ability to highlight what is important about the scenario.

I try to draw attention to the times I act like myself so my children have an example and language for this useful skill. I say, “Mommy handled this much better than last time. I was feeling angry that you ruined the rug, but I took a deep breath to calm down then I talked with Jesus and, once I felt better, I could talk with you about the problem in a calm voice.” Also, I highlight the moments I mess up so the boys can learn what it looks like to repair. In these cases, I explain how I wish I would have handled the situation, and we go on to discuss what it would have looked like if I remained my relational self. I say, “Boys, I am sorry Mommy yelled. I was upset that you knocked over the lamp after I just reminded you not to stand on the table. I now see that I overwhelmed you, and I should have calmed myself down before talking to you. It is important for me to notice when my big feelings are overwhelming so that I can protect you from my anger.”

Regardless of whether we act like ourselves in a situation, it is a good teaching opportunity if we use the lens of acting like ourselves so that our children interpret our actions through this lens. We remind our children who they are and how it is like them to act. This step reinforces their identity and character is more important than their mistakes. I do this when I say, “Matthew, you are a kind boy. When you are mean to your brother you are not behaving like the kind person Jesus made you to be.” Also, I may tell him, “Matthew, when your friend was hurt today at church you brought the teacher over to help her. You then stayed with her to be sure she was alright. Good job acting out of the kind, protective heart Jesus gave you!” Ideally, we draw attention to the times they act like themselves as well as the times they failed to reflect the heart Jesus gave them.

Our children will learn how to act like themselves from our example as well as the examples within our families and communities. Ideally, there is a diverse skill set within our networks so children have plenty of examples to choose from. It is fairly common for people to misunderstand the acting like myself skill to mean that this refers to how I usually act, most of the time. Rather, acting like myself refers to acting in a way that reflects the person God created me to be. We rely on others to affirm, correct and see us as God sees us to gauge what this looks like under varying emotions and circumstances.

I hope you will pause and reflect on your day to notice if are moments you stayed yourself in a difficult situation – or if there was a moment you tried to but it did not go well. What does it look like for you to act like your true self? What would it look like if you live from the heart Jesus gave you while feeling anger, sadness, joy, fear, hopeless despair, disgust and shame?

When the going gets tough, we do well to stay ourselves in the midst of the distress instead of losing ourselves. You can read more on Acting Like Myself, the “A” in RARE Leadership, with the book, RARE Leadership. You can also review Skill 12 of the 19 skills in the book, Transforming Fellowship.

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Remaining Relational with Flattened Flapjacks

Last night my family enjoyed our weekly tradition of breakfast for dinner. As my boys were devouring their pancakes, I remembered the item I found under the living room rug last week. Pancakes. Yes, that’s correct. Pancakes.

A few weeks ago my sons thought it would be funny to sneak a few pancakes, and hide them under the large rug in the living room. I discovered this a couple of weeks later after the pancakes were ground into the rug and smashed, then hardened onto the wood floor beneath the rug. As you can imagine, I was not pleased to find this hidden treasure!

I felt anger rise in me. My relational brain began to short circuit. I knew I was too angry to stay relational when I talked with them about this, so I asked them to go play in their rooms. I said, “We will talk about this problem after I calm down.”

To be honest, taking a pause to calm myself before I interact with the kids over a misbehavior is not something that comes naturally to me. I have to be very intentional to remain relational in these moments. This is one of the elements of a RARE leader. For the next 4 weeks I will share something about each element needed to be a RARE leader as described by Dr. Marcus Warner and Dr. Jim Wilder in the book RARE Leadership. It may be strange to think of yourself as a leader, but if you are a parent, you are leading your children and your family. RARE stands for Remain Relational, Act Like Yourself, Return to Joy, and Endure Hardship. This week I want to focus on remaining relational, which includes how to keep relationships bigger than problems.

One big challenge parents face is how to affirm to their children they are more important than the messes they create. In the moment when a child disobeys, hurts a sibling, breaks something, acts disrespectfully, lies or colors on the wall, it is hard to remember that the child is more important than the problem. As parents we have to stay relational and calm ourselves in order to effectively convey that the child is more important than the issue they have created. This is true for all of us, parents or not. This skill can be especially hard when the child’s behavior “pushes our buttons” and triggers our own unprocessed pain. Sometimes the simple act of disobedience makes us feel out of control. We say things like, “They should know better!”

I often catch myself feeling like an “infraction of the rules” is an emergency to be dealt with RIGHT NOW and there is no time to slow down and calm myself. Mind you, this is not my conscious thought. This is what my emotional reaction tells me. Sometimes I also catch myself feeling embarrassed by their behavior. I may notice that I suddenly feel like a failure as a mother and, after years of teaching and guidance, they would still act this way. It is in these low-joy moments when I need to ask Immanuel how He sees me, the situation, and my children so that my actions will line up with my love for them.

In the case of the pancakes smashed beneath the rug, it also meant waiting to give the consequence to my boys until I calmed myself, prayed about it and talked to Chris. Most of the time I may not need all of these steps, but sometimes I do, especially for the big infractions that really push my buttons.

After calming myself and praying about an appropriate response, I talked with Matthew and Andrew. I told them that, unfortunately, what they thought was silly and fun was damaging. I expressed that I understood they were not trying to damage the rug. However, because they were not thinking about the consequences of their actions they created a big problem. I told them they would have to pay me all of their allowance money they had been saving for a Lego toy to pay for a new rug.

My boys were distressed about this consequence and I was glad I had calmed myself so I could synchronize with their big feelings then help them calm down. Once the stormy sea of emotions had settled, I helped them interpret how, in the real world, there are consequences when we destroy property that belongs to other people. Over the next few days I gave the boys opportunities to earn extra money around the house.

Looking back on this ordeal, I am thankful I was able to recognize that I was too upset to interact with the boys about their behavior. I knew I was not going to stay relational because my brain’s relational circuits were off, and I needed a bit of self-care. Everything in relationship goes more smoothly when I can keep my relational circuits on and remain relational. My sons learned a valuable lesson about the consequences of their actions – opposed to simply learning that putting pancakes under the rug will make Mommy mad.

Next time you find yourself upset by your children, a spouse or a coworker, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “Do I feel ready to handle this situation relationally, or do I need to calm myself first?” I hope you will read the wonderful book, RARE Leadership.

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When Brotherly Love Heads South

I just walked out of the shower this morning when I heard my son sobbing in his room. I was surprised by this sound so I quickly ran into his room and scooped him in my arms. I asked, “Andrew, tell me what happened!”

Between sobs and slobber, Andrew managed to utter, “Matthew says he hates me!” I pulled my son closer and stroked his hair. I replied, “I am so sorry buddy. Those are mean words, and words can really hurt!”

At this point I noticed my anger starting to build towards Matthew. He broke a cardinal rule in our home. We do not say the word “hate” in our house – not even about our least favorite vegetable, let alone a person!

I felt the need to jump into action and make this situation right. I started contemplating what consequence would be enough to help Matthew avoid using these mean words again. It was this moment when I realized I shifted into “Fix It” mode. I felt like I had to right this wrong immediately and I knew my relational circuits were off. At this point my brain’s problem solver had taken over, focusing on results instead of hearts. I took some deep breaths and reminded myself this is not an emergency. I recognized the most important thing I could do was help Andrew calm down and get back to joy from his big feelings. I continued to hold him and stroke his back while he cried.

After a bit of time Andrew was back to his calm (but sad) self, so I left his room. I walked into Matthew’s bedroom and noticed he was lying on his bed. I asked him if I could talk with him about something important. He said “Yes, Mommy” then I questioned him about the reasons he said he hated Andrew. Matthew responded by telling me Andrew hit him hard in the face “on purpose” and it really hurt, so Matthew told Andrew he hated him. After more interviewing I was able to glean additional details about the interaction. Apparently both boys were having a fun, playful battle with “weapons” and Andrew accidentally hit Matthew in the face with the belt to his bathrobe. I synchronized with Matthew’s sadness about getting hit in the face. I then pointed out that whenever they play fighting games, the odds are very high that one or the other will end up getting injured. I suggested playful fighting is probably not a good idea if Matthew is uncomfortable with the occasional injury.

We continued the conversation by discussing the house rule about saying the “hate” word. I asked Matthew if he realized his speech caused Andrew to spend the last 30 minutes crying in his room. I said, “Matthew, is this the effect you want to have on your brother?” He looked at me with big eyes and nodded “No.” I clarified, “Matthew, hate is not simply a mean word, but it is a very cruel word. For this reason we do not say this word to a person. Using this word with a person can create a deep pain and sadness.” I could see Matthew was attentively listening and learning.

A while ago my husband and I created a useful rule in our house. Any time one of our sons says something unkind, the offender has to share 3 things he appreciates about the other person. While I was helping Andrew calm down, the thought occurred to me that I should use this new rule, but take it a step farther. In this case, I told Matthew that because his words were beyond simply mean, he needed to come up with 10 things he appreciated about Andrew. Yes, I said 10!

Matthew needed to give this some thought until he came up with 10. When he had his list, he could join the rest of us downstairs to share his appreciation with brother.

It took a while, but eventually Matthew joined us at the breakfast table armed with his list. Before Matthew even started sharing his list, the tone in the room was filled with hurt and sadness. Andrew still had not fully recovered from his hurt feelings with big brother. Once Matthew began expressing his appreciation toward Andrew, I noticed a change. Andrew’s face and countenance appeared lighter. The frown slowly melted away. By the end of the 10 appreciations, Andrew and Matthew were smiling and giggling. Joy was restored.

I was feeling thankful myself, particularly because I had insisted Matthew come up with 10 appreciations for Andrew instead of 3. I noticed during the time Matthew was sharing, by number 3, Andrew had not yet fully recovered from the relational rupture. He needed the extra boost from the list.

While sharing appreciation qualities with someone after a relational rupture will not always bring the relationship back to joy, I find that most of the time it does thaw the ice and activate relational circuits. It is here where both sides begin to find some traction and get the relationship back where it needs to be. Go on, share some appreciation with someone today!

Next week I will be starting a four week series on the four elements of RARE Leadership as it applies to parenting. I hope you tune in to check it out!

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When You Don’t Feel Good Enough

by Jen’s husband Chris

The other day I noticed my mind wandering to past events, previous relationships and moments in the rearview mirror of life where I felt shame. Thinking about these moments made my face cringe and my stomach roll in knots. The steadiness of my breathing slowed and shallowed.

As I pondered my tense reactions, I realized the common denominator in each of these moments: these were times I failed. I felt I failed by handling the situation poorly. Hurting someone’s feelings. Saying or doing the wrong thing. I took a wrong turn. Thinking about this turmoil left me feeling regret, shame, even some sorrow. I wanted to press the “Redo” button and start all over.

While these “recordings” have played before, I had the thought, “These are moments my brain has not fully finished processing something. The replaying that is robbing my peace is an indicator something needs resolved in order to return to peace again.” The absence of peace is an indicator something needs addressed. As you may notice from Jen’s blogs, our family strives to live a lifestyle where we turn to Immanuel in the good times and bad. I knew I needed to feel and share these feelings to find resolution.

After thinking about moments in life where I felt peace and joy, I then prayed, “Lord, I am grateful for the ways You are with me. Thank you for Your goodness. It appears I am missing peace in these places my mind keeps gravitating toward. What do I need from You today?”

At this point I had an image in my mind, where I was standing before Jesus with my head hanging down in shame. I didn’t want to look up. I felt like I was standing before a spotlight because bright light shone all around me. It was magnificent. Next, I sensed Jesus reach forward to lift up my head and I had the thought, “Stand up and face Me like a man.” This surprised me even more and reminded me of Job 38:3, where God tells his servant Job, “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” The tone and thought behind these words were empowering and inviting, not harsh or cold.

Next, I felt like Jesus shared several things including, “You are forgiven. I washed the filth from you. You are clean. I am in You. You are in Me.” There was more, but each word breathed life into my forlorn frame. While surprised by this “Immanuel moment” as we call it in our training, I felt seen, refreshed, validated and valued. Peace replaced my guilt and shame.

Later in the day I shared bits of this story with my sons at the dinner table. I said, “Guys, you won’t believe what I felt like Jesus told me today!” I asked my 7-year old son to lower his head as though he was feeling sad. When he did, I lifted up his head with my hand to see a big grin on his face. I said, “This is what Jesus did for me this morning; isn’t that neat?” I want them to learn through both words and actions that Immanuel is an available God who freely gives peace to all who need it.

I was using Skill 13 of the 19 relational brain skills during this interactive encounter to pursue God’s peace. Next, I was practicing Skill 18 to notice my brain had stopped processing and I was in need of a specific solution. Needless to say, this was a most remarkable moment that I cherish. The Good Shepherd was tender toward my weaknesses. I remembered the writings of a successful king who sometimes failed. He once said, “But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain.” (Psalm 3:3-4, NIV)

Now, when I think back on these moments that used to rob my peace, I see a picture of myself standing before the Mighty One in confidence. I don’t feel the heaviness in my chest. I can breathe easier. I feel accepted. Where do you need peace today?

Learn more about these skills with my book, Transforming Fellowship. Learn more about the brain’s Verbal Logical Explainer and The Immanuel Approach here

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My Return To Joy Story

I recently received a request to write an example story demonstrating what it looks and sounds like to return to joy from disappointment. Ideally, I would tell you this story “live” and in person where you could watch me. You would hear my words but you could see my facial expressions, gauge my posture, observe my gestures, spot the timing of my movements and share the intensity of my emotions that you see on my face and hear in my voice. Even though I’m not with you, in person, I decided to share a written version. Here it goes.

This year my family had a lot going on for Mother’s Day. It was busy. In fact, it was so busy that it did not work for us to celebrate Mother’s Day like we usually would – on the day, together as a family. We decided to reschedule my Mother’s Day celebration to another time where we could breathe easier.

After some time passed, the rescheduled Mother’s Day event was approaching. I felt excited to have quality time with my boys. (I’m smiling here!) I noticed an excited tension in my body as I began counting down to the activities that my family planned for me. It sort of felt like Christmas morning all over again! (More smiles here.)

As Chris and I were preparing for bed the night before the official rescheduled Mother’s Day celebration, I heard my husband say, “Honey, I’m not feeling well. I may be getting sick.” Uh-Oh. I noticed a slight knot form in my stomach. My breathing grew shallow. I took a deep breath and decided to take my husband’s temperature. Sure enough. He had a fever. (Sad face.) The knot grew larger in my stomach. My heart sank. My face fell. I noticed tears forming in my eyes.

While I was sad for my sick husband who was a bit miserable, I felt frustrated because I wanted him to be healthy and available. (Frustrated face here.) I felt hopeless as my anticipation of the joyful fun faded away. (Defeated-looking face here.) I felt sad because of the loss. (Downcast expression here.) You see, I was SO looking forward to the fun that was in store. Now, sadly, these plans were ruined. (Exasperated expression here.)

Unfortunately, when I feel disappointed my tendency is to lash out at the person who I perceive caused the disappointment. I may get snappy or a bit sharp in my tone. In this case, I did not want to follow my historically unhelpful pattern. I took a deep breath from my belly, then I told Jesus how sad and mad I was feeling. I asked for Immanuel’s help to calm down. I prayed for extra endurance to respond in a way that best reflected my heart. (Hopeful expression here.)

With a few more deep breaths, I started to feel the knot in my stomach dissolve. My shoulders relaxed. The tension in my face disappeared. A picture came to my mind as I thought about how miserable Chris must be feeling. Knowing my husband’s sensitive heart, and his desire to spoil me, I realized how unhappy he must feel over these circumstances. I now felt compassion towards him. (Compassionate expression here.) Whenever I feel disappointed, it is like my heart to still care about the feelings and needs of other people. At this point I checked on him, and tucked him into bed.

Now that I could breathe easier and I felt more peaceful, I could settle into bed with the assurance there would be more opportunities for special moments with my crew. I had the thought, “Maybe this celebration, when it does happen, will be even more meaningful and special for me.” This thought brought a warm smile.

In my story, I included a description how my body was feeling in the midst of my disappointed feelings. I talked about how I felt as I returned to relational “glad to be togetherness.” I shared emotion words for what I was feeling (sad, angry, hopeless) and this was a story that I was involved in. You knew my thoughts and feelings as I went along. This was a story that I did not need to be guarded in telling so I felt comfortable sharing this with you. My story was not too intense which makes it a good story that is appropriate for training. I kept the story concise to avoid getting lost in too many words. If you watched me tell the story, you would see the authentic emotion on my face and you would hear it in my voice. This is important because it conveys the emotional content to your brain’s emotional control center for maximum impact. In other words, not only do I genuinely feel the emotion when I remember it in my story, but I convey the emotion to you. When I say, “I felt frustrated, hopeless, sad and angry” I would not have a smile on my face with an upbeat tone of voice. Rather, my face would appear distressed and my voice tone would match my face and the relevant emotion.

Stories are an excellent way to train our brain to see a picture of how we might want to act in the midst of upsetting emotion. It is here where we can learn a new way of handling a situation. Many of us can handle at least one of the six negative emotions we are wired to feel. The six are sadness, anger, fear, shame, disgust and hopeless despair. Most of us have certain emotions that are sticking points, where we get stuck. If we share stories about the emotions we handle well, and our friends share stories of the emotions they handle well, we can build a library of examples that will help us learn how to successfully manage all of the emotions. This news brings me hope and much excitement! (Big smile here!)

Go on, tell someone a redemptive return to joy story today and watch what happens. You can learn more about returning to joy in Living From The Heart Jesus Gave You, The Complete Guide To Living With Men, Joy Starts Here and Transforming Fellowship. Find these books here.

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What I Like About You!

Sometimes my sons say hurtful words to each other. As we all know, words can hurt. Because my husband and I have little patience for unkind speech, we are highly motivated to put a stop to this behavior. We have tried a number of methods to instill change. All too often we end up correcting an instigator and calming an injured party. Recently my husband and I tried something new.

Guess what? It works! In fact, our new plan works really well. We are relieved to have something life-giving to utilize and teach our sons. Today, I want to share it with you.

When one child says something mean, the initiator of irritation must share 3 things he appreciates about his brother. For example, when Matthew says something mean to Andrew, Matthew then goes back to Andrew and expresses 3 things he appreciates/likes/enjoys about his brother. This sounds all too easy because it is. Sort of. But it works.

Just the other day Matthew said something mean to Andrew who then started crying. In his upset, Andrew said, “Matthew is ALWAYS mean!” I found Matthew and told him to go quiet himself while I comforted Andrew in his distress. It is normal for Matthew to appear relatively unconcerned when I question him about this behavior. In most cases he will justify his words and responses and show little remorse. This time, after comforting Andrew, I pulled Matthew aside and asked him if his words brought Andrew joy. He said, “No” then I reminded him who he is and who he is not. “Matthew, you are the kind of boy who brings people joy and it’s not like you to be mean. Your behavior does not match the kind of boy I know you to be.” At this point I would usually send him to repair with his brother but in a short amount of time there would be playing then fighting then we are back to square one.

This time I added a crucial step. Instead of simply repairing, I told Matthew he must return to Andrew and share 3 three things he appreciates about his little brother. Matthew went to Andrew and told him “I appreciate that you share with me. I appreciate building with legos with you and I appreciate riding our scooters together. You are fun to play with!” Moments later they decided to start a Lego project together and ran off to play together.

This is the piece that has transformed the tone of my house. Here is why it works.

First, Matthew must think of the things he appreciates about his brother. Usually these are the fun ways he enjoys playing with Andrew. Remembering moments of fun restores the relational part of Matthew’s brain. Remembering the fun moments also helps Matthew reflect on why he actually enjoys his brother and reminds him how much fun it is when he plays with his brother. When Matthew verbalizes his appreciation to Andrew, it transforms Andrew’s face and voice as he goes from grumpy and non-relational to peaceful and engaged. Andrew is reminded of how good it feels when he is getting along with his big brother and it brings the realization that, ok, Matthew is not always mean. Andrew feels appreciation as he hears Matthew’s words and hearing appreciation wakes up the relational circuit in Andrew’s brain as well so at this point both boys are glad to be together and feeling calm and connected.

This exercise has been a remarkable turnaround for the boys. After one of them shares 3 things he appreciates, both boys will decide to do a fun activity together, such as building Legos or playing tag in the yard. The fun can last a good long while without additional ruptures.

I am pleased with the progress I see in the boys as they express what they enjoy about each other whenever there is a fallout. I’m beginning to think this exercise not only helps young children but couples, coworkers, friends and families could also benefit from the effects this exercise brings. I’m pretty sure all of us would be touched and transformed if we regularly expressed the qualities we appreciate in other people. Just imagine what church, school, government and, more importantly, our families would look like! A little joy can go a long way.

Check out the book Transforming Fellowship: 19 Brain Skills that Build Joyful Community to read more about these skills.

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