Tag: Relationships

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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Raising Resilient Children

I want to have a heart to heart with you about raising resilient children. These are children who bounce back and recover when things go wrong. Children who respond to the curve balls of life and relationships with flexibility and fortitude. Children who can quiet and calm themselves on the good and bad days. I think it’s safe to say that every loving parent wants to raise a resilient child, but the million-dollar question is, “How, exactly, do we do this?”

Should we hurry our kiddos through their tears? Do we tell them to “get over it” and “put on a strong face” so that nothing hurts them? Do we toughen them up by minimizing their feelings? I hate to say it, but the best way to ensure we do not raise a resilient child is to let our fears dictate our parenting style. I’m not going to lie. This is a tough one.

Last week we looked at how we can help ourselves navigate hardship well. Now the question is, “How do we help our children learn this difficult, but valuable skill?” How do we teach young, formative brains to be resilient?

It may shock you to know that those who are the most resilient are the most comfortable with their feelings. These are children who have learned from mom, dad, grandparents, teachers and coaches how to feel big feelings and stay relationally connected as they learn to calm down. Oftentimes we have to face our own fears of our child looking weak in order to help them become strong. Think about that. We have to accept our child looking weak so they can be strong. In order to do this we have to be comfortable with our own weaknesses. Are you still with me? We have to learn that, in spite of our own failures and follies, God is still God. God can work with our mess ups and grow good things from the garden of our weaknesses.

It takes a ton of practice to learn how to manage what we feel. Even in my adult body, with so much more capacity than my sons, I still have days when my big feelings get the best of me. Ouch! I hate it when this happens. So, how exactly can we help our children learn this valuable skill when they have significantly less emotional capacity and maturity than we do?

As adults, it is our job to stay relationally connected to others while we feel our big feelings. Whether we like it or not, our children learn to endure hardship by our example, not our words. Depending on their age and level of maturity, our children need us to first attune and synchronize with them so they learn to navigate and calm the stormy sea of feelings and fears. In this way, children learn to stay relationally connected in the midst of their distress.

The daily practice of skills during the “easy” times provide us with the tools we need during the tough times. As we discussed in previous weeks, Remaining Relational, Acting Like Ourselves and Returning to Joy are vital to practice so we have these skills available when we need them. The relational brain skills of joy, quieting, appreciation, four-plus stories and joy bonds with our children all increase emotional capacity to endure hardship with style and grace. Some of these may be skills we are painfully aware that we are missing. Here is the good news. We can proactively learn these skills and we can find others in our family and community who have these skills to be resources. Just think about the people you know. Who lights up to see you and your children? Who recovers well when things go wrong? Who stays flexible during the hard times?

Chris and I recognize the reality that our boys need more than we can give them. Because of this realization, we work extra hard to surround them with people who bring out the best in them. In this way, my sons experience a diversity of skills. For example, my babysitters don’t know it, but when I first met them, I was actually interviewing them to see if they would be a source of joy, play, quieting and other skills for my sons. You see, play is not something that comes naturally to me. This is something I have to work very hard on day in and day out. It has been extremely rewarding to watch my boys play with their babysitters, knowing that, in spite of my deficits, they are still getting a lot of opportunities to play.

In order to train our children in the skills needed to endure hardship, we must first practice them. Please do not expect something from your children that you are not willing to do yourself. Every one of us can strengthen our own skills and prayerfully find and surround our children with safe people who are strong where we are weak. You are worth the effort. Your children are worth the effort. Let’s start by asking God to meet us right where we are and find the resources and opportunities to grow. Read RARE Leadership and learn more about these essentials for your most treasured relationships.

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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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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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