Tag: Children

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.

SUBSCRIBE

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.

SUBSCRIBE

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!

SUBSCRIBE

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.

SUBSCRIBE

Stories That Train Your Brain

The other night Matthew was feeling disappointed. While he tends to have a hard time with this melting pot of emotions that include some sadness, some hopeless despair and some loss, he has a hard time when he expects something then plans change, and he doesn’t get what he set his mind on. I don’t know about you, but this is hard for me as well!

After a difficult day that included too much physical work, my husband’s back was hurting rather severely so he decided to rest and soak in our hot tub. I informed the boys they could enjoy the hot tub with Daddy after dinner as well, but they chose to play outside for a short time first. After playing for a bit I then asked them to clean up their toys so we could have time together to enjoy the hot tub as well. Instead of cleaning up they continued playing. By the time they put away their toys, it was too late for the hot tub. It was now bedtime. Needless to say, they were not happy.

Matthew especially struggles to accept a change in plans and this time was no exception. He begged and pleaded for the hot tub. I acknowledged how frustrating it was to miss the hot tub fun he was hoping for, then I synchronized with his disappointment. I reiterated that, unfortunately, we missed the chance for today, but we could try again tomorrow. Even this assurance did not relieve his frustration and disappointment. Something more was needed.

Ever since the boys were young Chris has been telling stories to help them process the moments big feelings arise. My husband uses stories to give them a picture of what to do in the midst of their big emotions. In some cases Chris tells stories of his life but most of the time he makes up a story about one of their favorite characters and shares how this character handled a similar situation in order to help the boys process their feelings and have an example of how they could respond when they feel this way in the future. While I am not as proficient at storytelling, I do try to help the boys process their feelings by telling stories, sometimes about actual scenarios I was in a similar situation, and sometimes about a favorite character of theirs. I am careful to include how big feelings were calmed while I (or the character) stayed relational in the midst of the feelings.

At this point it was bedtime, and Matthew asked me to tell him a story about “Eli the Elephant” and how Eli handled big disappointment feelings. I knew this was an important moment and then he added, “Mommy, make sure you tell how Eli wasn’t able to get in the hot tub and how he was sad and mad!” While fictional stories can be helpful to give children a picture showing how they might act in a similar situation, the most effective stories are about real-life situations where we express how we handled ourselves in the midst of the upset.

I told Matthew a story about Eli the Elephant then I followed up with a personal story about a time I did not handle my disappointment very well. I included how I hope to better handle the situation next time. Afterwards Matthew settled in peacefully and went to sleep.

When we tell emotional picture stories (also something we call “Four-plus stories” in our THRIVE Training) these provide listeners with an example demonstrating how to act in the midst of distressing emotions. These example stories also give our brain useful training to learn how to return to joy and peace while staying in relationship. Emotional picture stories include words for the emotions we are feeling as well as how our body feels in the midst of the event. We want to include how we are involved in the story and, to be ideal for training, each story should be one we have told before so they are not too intense. When told well, these personal reflection stories give an example how we are to act in emotions and similar circumstances. The brain, when hearing and watching these stories, will respond as if we actually went through the moment. These stories are internalized and stored in our brain’s identity center that we can rely on in the future when it comes to searching for examples of how to be ourselves when big emotions strike. This interaction gives us a chance to learn a new way of handling our emotions and expressing our values during big emotions. Can you think of a story to share with your family or a friend today?

SUBSCRIBE

Facing Frightening Fears

Matthew has not learned to swim. Over the last several years my 7 year-old son has participated in a number of swimming lessons – to no avail. He refuses to put his face into the water. When he is part of a group lesson, the teacher simply does not have the time to coax or calm his fears because children are waiting in line. One well-intentioned instructor actually increased his fear by dunking him under the water – to prove there is nothing to fear. Yeah, that’s going to work! His approach sounded good in theory but did not calm an already anxious brain that needed a specialized solution during a highly anxious moment.

I have been excited this summer to help my son learn the basic skill of swimming. It is my desire for him to know how to swim so he will not drown in case he ever falls or is pushed into a pool without his “swimmies” on. I decided to pursue private lessons in order for him to have an experienced teacher take the time to help him learn this new skill and overcome his fears.

Thankfully, I found a wonderful girl in town who agreed to give both of my sons swimming lessons. Last week we went to her pool for the first lesson. It started out well. Matthew enjoyed his time in the water – up to the point she asked him to “bob” under the water and submerge his head. He quickly resisted her request, and expressed his fear about getting water up his nose. At this point she gently taught him the trick of blowing air out his nose when he dips under the water. After some practice he lowered his face under the water and blew air out of his nose. With a big smile he was delighted to report no water seeped into his nose!

I thought this was the end of our water struggles. Once he practiced putting his face in the water and blowing bubbles, she then asked him to try “bobbing” under the water by keeping his face under for a moment. With some energy he said “NO!” then started crying saying he was going to sink if he went under the water. I felt my stomach drop and tried to calm him down – to no avail. He then climbed out of the pool, curled into a ball and cried. He then begged to stay out of the water. I knew he was having big feelings at this point and his brain’s relational circuits were offline.

I took a breath and tried helping him calm down some more. In desperation, I next tried to bribe him with ice cream if he followed the teacher’s instructions. I tried reasoning with him and pointed out that he was not going to sink. After all, the teacher was right next to him and could help him if he needed a hand! Nope. Nothing. No words helped as his brain’s survival circuit at this point was kicked into full gear so it was time to feel safe – outside of the pool. We finished the lesson with Andrew, my 5-year old, paddling around and going under the water like a fish, begging to jump in again and again.

On our drive home Matthew was still visibly upset. He looked at me and said, “I wish I was like Andrew, because he is not afraid of the water!” I felt my heart sink. He genuinely wanted to follow the teacher’s instructions. He really wanted to swim. There was only one problem. His will power was no match for his big fears. You see, he was feeling terror in the brain’s emotional control center, what we call Level 2. You can read this article for more on this part of the brain but the fear responses at this level are big, bad and scary. This is not a relational part of the brain so we simply react and try to survive a scary encounter.

I knew that words and information would not fix this problem – nor would bribes or pleas. This part of the brain is subcortical (below the brain’s cortex so it’s deep) and is not subject to will power or coercion. This is the area of the brain where phobias, fears and post traumatic stress strikes so the reactions are intense, unmanageable and overwhelming. I knew my son needed a better intervention if he was going to put his head under the water.

When we arrived home, I pulled him aside and talked about his fear. I said, “Matthew, I also feel really afraid of things, like being too high off the ground.” He was now curious to hear how I handle my fear. I knew this was the perfect time to tell some good stories demonstrating how I faced my fear of heights. I pointed out how his water fear is similar to the fear he used to have with bees, only now he has learned to calm himself instead of panicking when a bee approaches. We reviewed how he calms down when bees buzz around him. He starts by taking deep breaths. He notices how he feels in his body, which helps to activate the captain in the brain’s control center, what we call Level 4. This is the brain region God has given us to calm our strong Level 2 reactions. Now Matthew was eager to try the same “trick” to see if it would help his swimming fears.

When it was time for the next lesson, we reviewed what to do if he was afraid. We practiced deep belly breaths. We noticed how how his body felt. I assured him that if he was too afraid, he did not have to put his head in the water. This was his choice. I am glad to say, the lesson was a success! Yes, he was nervous. Instead of amplifying his fear he calmed  himself by taking deep breaths like we practiced. He put his head under the water. With the help of an incredibly patient teacher, Matthew was improving his ability to “dip” and “bob” in the water. At the end of the lesson he said, “Mommy! I am not afraid of the water anymore!” We celebrated.

In this case Matthew was able to override his strong fears. It is important to say that not every fear will resolve this quickly and cleanly. In fact, Matthew’s fears will likely arise again, so we will need to practice his quieting skills over and over. There is the glorious hope that each of us no longer have to miss out on the things we want to do in life because of our fear. Once we learn how to activate the captain in our brain (Level 4) we can greatly improve our ability to handle the situations where we feel the intense Level 2 fear. We can also learn how to process pain and disarm the landmines that rob our joy.

You can learn more about the power of stories here.

Read how Jesus disarmed fear and conquered a scary snow monster here.

SUBSCRIBE