Tag: Brain Skills

Change the Course of Your Morning

It was a rough morning. My crew overslept. We woke up grumpy. From the moment our feet touched the floor we were running late. This is not how I planned to start my day. Can you relate?

While my youngest son, Andrew, has warmed up to kindergarten and he frequently reports moments of fun, there have been tears along the way. After a long, hard day at school he sometimes cries, and tells me he does not want to return to school the next morning. When morning arrives, a bit of sleep rejuvenates him so that his emotional battery is recharged for the new day and he’s ready to go.

Well, we did not get there this morning. My son woke up crying. He said, “I don’t want to go to school” and from that point on, it was a fight to get out the door. He was low energy. His was incredibly droopy and whiny. Moving as slowly as humanly possible, he then let it be known that he wanted to stay home. I responded by trying to make it a fun morning. I reminded him of the things he could look forward to about his day. In the end, my good intentions failed. He simply wanted to stay home.

When we finally made it out the door and climbed into the car, the boys began snapping at each other. I started barking at them to stop. It was clear our relational circuits were OFF, and nowhere to be found. Once I recognized this, I announced that we needed to take a few moments of quiet to turn on our relational circuits. After some quiet and calm, I shared that it was time for a bit of appreciation.

Normally my sons enjoy expressing appreciation. When we practice this exercise, all of us end up wearing big smiles. However, when we are relationally sinking and we need appreciation to stay afloat, it is these moments that the boys do not feel like practicing the exercise. I must get a little creative and this morning required serious creativity.

At this stage of life my boys believe that going first on just about any activity is the most important thing in the whole world. They do not like going last. On this particular morning, I decided to use this information to my advantage. I announced we were going to share appreciation, however, this time it was my turn to go first. Andrew jumped in and responded that I should go last because he wanted to go first. Next, Matthew quipped that he was not going to participate. Everyone was making their stance known.

I then pretended to argue with Andrew over who should go first. Using a silly tone that usually makes them smile, I pretended to argue with Andrew, pleading that I should go first. After some shared smiles with Andrew, I decided to let him start. When Andrew finished sharing his appreciation, I announced that I was glad Matthew wasn’t participating because it meant I could share next. As you can imagine, this provoked a response from Matthew. He said, “No, you have to go last! I am sharing now!” then he launched into his own appreciation. When my turn finally arrived, the tone in the car was lighter. We were all laughing and giggling. I dropped them off at school with a full bucket of joy instead of an empty bucket where they would feel depleted.

Isn’t it amazing how different our interactions go when our relational circuits are on versus off? I find much-needed quiet along with a fresh dose of appreciation are just what my family needs to turn the tide of a bad day into a better day when things are quickly heading south.

The fun thing about our relational brain is that you don’t have to wait for attitudes to be negative, or moods to turn sour before taking advantage of the benefits of appreciation and quiet. In fact, things will go much more smoothly for you when your relational circuits are off IF you are accustomed to practicing these skills in the calm and joyful times as well.

Try an exercise today and share with someone 3 things that make you smile. For a long-lasting benefit on your brain, reflect on how it feels to experience these special moments and soak in the feelings for several minutes before and after you share. Watch what happens when you use these skills!

If you are married, I recommend 30 Days of Joy for Busy Married couples for lots of additional exercises that you can practice with your partner!

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Watch Me, Daddy!

From Chris:

The other day I was upstairs in my house when I heard my 5 year-old son playing basketball in the driveway. I looked out the window and noticed he was working hard to throw the big basketball up to the 10ft tall basketball rim. I could see my son was working hard to make a basket.

After he threw the ball and missed the rim, I yelled out to praise his effort, “Nice try, Andrew!” I then offered a few pointers for his next attempt. Once he noticed me in the window, his face lit up. It was clear he enjoyed having my attention. As my son dribbled the ball and practiced shooting, he frequently looked up to check if I was still watching. Several times he said, “Watch me, Daddy, watch!” as he grabbed the ball and prepared for the next attempt. I smiled as I watched him play.

Eventually, I went downstairs to shoot around with him, but this moment reminded me how important it is to have people who are genuinely glad to be with us. This “glad to be together” action is what we call brain skill #1: Share Joy. This response conveys, “I am really, really glad to be here with you. I see you. I believe in you. You are the focus of my attention because you matter to me.” As far as the brain’s emotional control center is concerned, we see ourselves in the faces looking at us. The smiling face is a mirror that reflects back, “You are special, loved and cherished!” The message speaks volumes to the brain’s identity center to tell us we are cherished.

When loved ones use words, facial expressions, and a calm demeanor to cheer us on with their attentive smiles, we feel loved, valued and affirmed. Having available people who are warm and non-anxious is a key ingredient to creating strong, secure attachments, what we call Skill #17: Identify Attachment Styles. It is no exaggeration to say that secure attachments are the foundation for good mental health. Bonds that are stable, joyful, consistent and predictable are the DNA of what makes strong families and healthy communities. We cannot underestimate what has been one of the most studied topics in all of psychology. This theme of a “bond of love” expressed and shared between the Creator and creation is a thread woven through all of scripture.

The lack of secure attachments create a myriad of problems that negatively affect the health and composition of a family, a community, even a society. I recently read an article by researcher and author Charlie Hoehn, who gave an interesting viewpoint to the increase in mass shootings. This was not a politically motivated article by any means, rather, the author makes a strong case that the declining mental health of men and boys in this country is a large contributing factor to the shooting tragedies we have seen in recent years. The author boils down his points to three characteristics that are common in gunmen who have killed a large number of people.

  1. They are lonely.
  2. They experienced play deprivation as children.
  3. They experienced deep (unprocessed) shame.

This observation lines up with much of the research I have come across in the past 20 years. It is, therefore, no accident the newest training track I created is called, THRIVE True Identity which focuses on key relational brain skills to 1. help people learn brain skills to build and restore relationships, 2. train individuals and groups to learn effective play strategies and use important brain skills that keep play safe and fun, and 3. develop the necessary brain skills to rest and return to joy from shame and every one of the six negative emotions the brain is wired to feel. This brain training program is offered in 1, 2 or 5-day formats but let’s be honest: every one of us can use some extra training in these areas! But I didn’t stop there.

I took the process one step farther by adding carefully designed exercises to increase our ability to interact with Immanuel (God with us) on topics related to our character and God’s character. This type of interaction provides the deepest change to our character and identity. Specific exercises with God and interactions with people can create habits that are internalized so they become part of the fabric of how we do life and relationships. I am convinced God wants His children to enjoy a secure attachment, bond of love, with Him and each other. It is this intersection of joy with God and joy with our neighbor where we discover perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)

Was it joyful to have your mother or father’s attention growing up? Did you feel encouraged knowing they were watching you? Did you feel embarrassed, self-conscious or fearful? How does it feel thinking God is with you? Does this bring you peace, or does it leave you anxious, angry or something else? No matter your response, you can experience lasting change by updating your brain with key relational skills so your go-to response is secure love expressed with joy and peace.

I hope you read my new book to learn how the 19 relational brain skills can change your life. Join me at one of our THRIVE Training events for 5 days of carefully designed training to transform your brain for joy.

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Black Belt Time

In a week when our country is again shocked by the evil in this world and grieving the needless loss of life, I wanted to share with you my husband Chris’ thoughts:

On a day our nation grieves a tragic mass murder and my boys must stay home from school because someone is threatening to shoot children, I am reminded how one key brain skill, Skill 11, Return to Joy from negative emotions, is increasingly absent in our society.

The effects of this missing skill cannot be underestimated because the human brain is wired for six negative emotions, which means we have to learn how to manage and quiet what we feel while we return to relationship. Emotions are signals of something specific going wrong that needs to be corrected.

When we do not return to joy and recover, our anger, fear, shame, disgust, sadness and hopeless despair turn into something else which is not always pretty. Just as my boys enjoy learning taekwondo through practice and training with excellent instructors, their young brains have to learn brain skills by practice and training with people who are equipped with the skills.

As I write in Transforming Fellowship, “Parents who have not learned Skill 11 cannot show their children how to properly manage and quiet big feelings. At this point “behavior-management” strategies shut children down from expressing themselves and hinder children from learning the path back to joy. Power-plays intensify. Parents try to modify behavior and soon problems become bigger than the relationship as parents revert to emotions like anger to stop the noise. There is a better way. We must learn how to quiet big feelings and return to joy with one another.” (Page 150)

Bullying, aggression, violence, depression, anxiety and more are not far when these important skills drop out of families, communities and society as a whole. Go on, get your black belt on and show those big emotions who’s in charge!

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I Can’t Believe My Child Did This!

Have you ever cringed watching your child misbehave? Maybe you felt a dose of shame when, after your best parenting efforts, your child still says or does THAT? Let’s face it. If you get right down to it, you are deeply concerned how your child is going to turn out. More than anyone, you are invested in your child’s development and well-being. Will your child grow into an adult that you and others will like? These are weighty thoughts.

I confess I have moments where I ask myself these hard questions. In fact, if I am brutally honest, shame and fear creeps in and creates intensity in my parenting and discipline style that I don’t like. It’s not as though I consciously think to myself, “I need to figure out how to control these kids so they turn out right!” However, in the moments I am short and sharp with my children, I notice a common theme: I feel overwhelmed and out of control. Do you ever feel this way?

I was telling Chris about this recently and he asked me an insightful question. He said, “When you feel so overwhelmed by the kids, do you think this is an issue of emotional capacity or are you feeling triggered by something from the past?” To clarify, emotional capacity is when something is greater than my ability to adequately manage it, and I need to grow in my maturity skills. Triggered is a term to say unresolved pain that includes thoughts and feelings from my past that creep into the present and add intensity to an already difficult situation, which sends me over the edge.

As I thought and prayed about this question, it was clear that I had unresolved triggers impacting the interactions with my sons. The intensity of my feelings over their misbehavior was more than the situation called for. While it is discouraging to know how these painful triggers negatively impact interactions with my children, at the same time, it is hopeful to realize these unprocessed pain landmines can be disarmed! These responses do not make me a bad mother nor do they define me. These are places in my character that need some of God’s peace and healing. I do well to identify these places and repair with my children when I overreact.

After learning this, I spent some time with a friend practicing interactive Immanuel Prayer. I talked with Jesus about the situation and my big feelings. It became clear that part of what was creating intensity for me was the pervasive weight of responsibility I felt to raise my sons to be kind, generous, secure, capable adults who love Jesus. I was carrying around a heavy weight!

As I asked Jesus what He wanted me to know about raising the boys He has given me, I felt like He lifted the weight of responsibility from my shoulders. It was like Jesus was saying that, ultimately, He is responsible for how my sons turn out. My job is to follow His lead, and do what He asks me to do as I parent them. I realized my fear comes from a desire to protect my boys from pain and suffering. I felt like Jesus showed me there is no way to fully protect my children from pain. Rather, my sons will experience hard things in their lives and Jesus will use these hard and painful times to mold their character into the men He is calling them to be.

Whew! That was just what my heart needed. After these interactions with Jesus, I felt a renewed sense of peace and purpose wash over me. My boys are safely in Jesus’ hands! Yes, they will experience pain. Yes, they will endure hardship, but it will not be without purpose. Even in those moments, Jesus is drawing them closer to Himself.

Since my prayer time last week, I have seen a difference in my parenting style. I feel noticeably calmer in situations that previously would set me off. I am more patient and better able to extend grace to my boys when they act out and misbehave. When Jesus met me in my fears, something changed. I am deeply grateful for Jesus helping me remain a more peaceful parent. I feel thankful to my husband for asking the insightful question that led me down this road.

What fears drive you? Keep in mind that our fears tell a story about what we value. What do your fears say about you? I pray you find a fresh dose of peace as you turn to the Prince of Peace for clarity and relief.

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Immanuel’s Strong Suitcase

My seven-year-old son struggles in the fall. The rest of the year Matthew’s busy ADD brain can be a challenge, but we have skills and strategies in place to stabilize his behavior and help him focus. We have observed profound changes when we practice relational brain skills such as quieting and appreciation, utilize neurofeedback to optimize his brain, add exercise into his routine and monitor his diet. The math is simple: as long as we remain proactive, he stays grounded and the results are glorious.

However, when August and September arrive, things spiral out of control. My son’s hyperactivity increases. His ability to listen and follow directions fly out the window. The frequency of his emotional meltdowns increase. Suddenly, EVERYTHING becomes harder.

Since Matthew’s seasonal allergies also kick in this time of year, I am confident the two are connected. However, I have not figured out a way to turn my hunch into a practical solution. In the meantime, my husband and I continue to explore strategies to help him when things get tough.

The other day Matthew landed in trouble for not following through on something I asked him to do. As a consequence, he lost an expected privilege. There are times my husband and I allow our sons to earn back lost privileges, so when this happened, I decided to try something new. I reminded him it was important to know what Jesus thinks about our behavior. I then mentioned how fun it would be for Matthew to talk with Jesus about his behavior, and listen to Jesus’ response. I said, “If you do this, and share with me what you feel Jesus says, then you can earn back your privilege.”

Matthew responded to this plan with excitement, because, after all, he simply needed to do something he already does, which is interact with Jesus. [1] I then sat next to him and asked him to tell me something he appreciates. Next, I suggested he ask what Jesus wants him to know about his behavior. I reminded Matthew to “turn on his listening ears” to notice what Jesus might say.

At first, Matthew’s mind wandered a good bit. He struggled to focus. Not surprised, I then suggested Matthew ask Jesus to help him focus, and check if Jesus wanted Matthew to know anything about focusing. A moment later Matthew’s face broke into a wide smile. Seeing this response, I asked, “Did you have a thought or a picture from Jesus?” Matthew told me a picture came to his mind. He saw an image of Jesus with a large suitcase, and he saw Jesus packing up the “extra thoughts” in Matthew’s head that were distracting him so that Matthew could better focus. When I heard this my face lit up. Matthew and I then rejoiced together that Jesus wanted to help him with these distracting, busy thoughts that were flying around.

Next, we returned to the first question and Jesus showed Matthew that He was sad when Matthew had trouble listening. Matthew went on to report that he felt like Jesus said He was glad to be with Matthew and wanted to give him a big hug, even when his listening ears aren’t working. Hearing this reminded me that I need to work on giving Matthew more grace in these moments, rather than respond with frustration.

After our interaction, Matthew’s focus and attention improved for the rest of the evening and our peace  levels increased. We have since been able to return to the “Immanuel moment” when Matthew struggles to focus. We ask Jesus to, “bring the suitcase and pack up the extra thoughts” so that Matthew can better focus without being distracted by fluttering thoughts.

A busy mind can be hard for an adult to quiet, much less a child. I feel encouraged that Jesus wants to help us and our children in our struggles. Thankfully, He is able to do something about the things we feel powerless over. I bet you have a few things in your life that you are struggling with today. I would encourage you to start with some appreciation, then talk with Jesus about what is on your mind. Like Matthew, be sure you, “turn on your listening ears” to see what He might want to share with you!

[1] We call this an Immanuel Interaction. Learn more with The Immanuel Approach by Dr. Karl Lehman, Joyful Journey by Kang, Loppnows and Wilder and Share Immanuel by Coursey and Wilder.)

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Enduring Hardship

This summer has been hard. For over 8 months Chris and I have been living in limbo as we wait for our house to sell. We have been anticipating this transition from Illinois to Michigan for some time, but living a week at a time is tricky. And, well, it gets old. Very old.

Keeping up a house in “showing condition” with 2 young boys has its challenges. We also have additional housemates with my husband’s 94-year-old grandmother as well as my mother who currently lives with us. These are blessings to me but as the joy increases so does the busyness.

To top it off, school is now in full force and I’m trying to figure out how the summer flew by so quickly. My main goal this past summer was to prioritize time with my sons. I believe I accomplished my goal but how can it be September? What happened to my friends June, July and August?

We have shifted some things to our new location but we are still harbored in Illinois. Between family needs, ministry work and my husband’s travel schedule, my plate is full! Can you relate to a full plate? I bet you can.

This season reminds me of another season a few years ago. My sons were 2 and 4 years-old when Chris injured his back. My husband could only work a few hours a day. He was miserably laid up on his back with ice packs most of the time. This situation meant I needed to hold down the fort with family needs, house maintenance, and ministry details. I remember feeling the strain. I was clearly in need of extra capacity to get through the trying time.

Extra capacity? How and where do we find extra capacity, exactly? Does it grow on trees? Does it use a battery charger? Maybe it comes in a can of spinach like Popeye used when he needed a boost.

If we are already practicing the topics from the previous 3 blogs, Remaining Relational, Acting Life Myself and Returning to Joy, these ingredients will help us immensely as we navigate the stormy waves of hardship. When I am going through a difficult season of life and I need to shore up my capacity, I utilize what’s called self-care. Self-care is simply the care of self and this crucial ingredient makes the difference between surviving and thriving.

For me, self-care means spending time listening to God, focusing on appreciation and quieting throughout the day. These additions create extra capacity with some “room to breathe” during the seasons when I feel as though the walls around me are closing in. It still amazes me the difference in how I feel after spending 5 minutes outdoors appreciating nature, 30 seconds taking some deep breaths or 10 minutes crying out to God in my prayers and journal as I wait to hear His voice and receive a fresh dose of peace. These are short little windows of time that sustain me for the day and refresh me to endure the next mountain to climb. While longer time periods are surely a blessing, short spurts tend to be what I can find during the busy seasons.

After the short time of refreshment, I notice some of the tension leaves my body. I can breathe more easily and, even if nothing changes in my circumstances, the day feels less overwhelming. One of my favorite Bible verses is 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” During seasons of hardship I often feel weak. I feel vulnerable and more dependent upon God. In these moments I feel as though God’s power works through me most clearly.

Our nation is in a difficult time where enduring hardship is vital. My prayers for each of us are that we will figure out what it means to care for ourselves so that we can better care for those we are serving.

What does self-care look like for you? I hope you will join me next week when I talk more about enduring hardship. My focus will be on helping our children endure hardship well.

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