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Re-Kindling Your Relationship with Your Partner
After years of marriage it is easy for the warmth of romance to die down. Sometimes couples feel that their spouse is a stranger, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Some couples assume that the best way to rekindle a relationship that has cooled is to plan a major event such as a cruise or vacation. That is often a mistake.

The best way to rekindle a relationship is probably to build time into your schedules to be together for mini-conversations. Maybe you take 15 minutes together after work to talk about your challenges at work. Maybe you take a walk together in the mornings to talk about goals and hopes. Maybe you meet for lunch or make a call during the day just to chat.

Such mini-conversations can start a process of reconnecting. A couple is wise to also schedule longer times together. An evening at dinner can help a couple trace the finest moments of their years together. Such great moments can be kept alive in memory as the defining times of the relationship. We can “find the glory in our marital story,” as John Gottman reminds us.

Often the biggest impediment to reconnecting is lack of desire. If we see our partner as predictable and boring, we may deliberately choose to avoid each other. But the healthiest couples know that lulls in a relationship are normal. They choose to reconnect.

One of the most important ways to keep your relationship healthy is to keep your fondness and admiration alive. John Gottman, a researcher on marriage, has suggested that we get together with our partner to recall our best times. He observes that “couples who put a positive spin on their marriage’s history are likely to have a happy future as well.”

“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families” contains excellent material on building your emotional bank account (Chapter 1). It is easy to become careless about making deposits in a relationship account. It is easy to make withdrawals and assume that the relationship will survive. But the healthiest relationships have a high account balance because of regular deposits and rare withdrawals.

One key to effective deposits is taking the time to notice what is important to your partner. Is it time for conversation? Is it shared activities? Is it small gifts? We can each learn to make more effective deposits.

We can also become more careful about withdrawals. When we know that we are withdrawing from our relationship account, we can pause, search for a different way of acting, and, if necessary, ask for help. For example, “Our relationship is really important to me but I am feeling very stressed. Do you have any ideas how we can have some relationship time together this week and I can still get my projects done?”

In the final analysis, our relationships are rekindled because we recommit. We recommit to being more patient, to making time to be together, and to remembering our best moments. A good relationship is no accident. It is the result of thousands of small choices.

Building Unity When Families Combine
A large proportion of parents and children will be a part of a blended family at some time in their lives. There can be many advantages to combining families, such as there may be less loneliness for the parents, less strain on resources, and a more stable environment.

But some of the hoped-for benefits do not readily materialize. The anticipated friendships between stepsiblings are as likely to generate rivalry and misunderstanding as closeness and friendship. An adolescent girl may find the transition to be especially hard because closeness with her mother may be displaced by her new marriage partner. All the family challenges make second marriages even more likely to fail than first marriages.

There are things people can do to prevent problems and build unity. The first is to have patience. While a stepdad may hope to bring order, peace, and healing to a new family, he also brings new ideas, new demands, new relationships. A step parent is wise to be very patient and listen a lot.

In fact, in any time of family stress, the counsel to “seek first to understand” is vitally important. Rather than impose our meanings and solutions on a new family, we can listen, seek to understand, and invite family members to suggest solutions.

A new stepparent is also wise to avoid competition. While a new stepmom may feel that she is a real improvement over her predecessor, she should recognize that her stepchildren have deep ties to their natural mother. Step parents should be supportive of continuing relationships between children and their natural parents.

The new couple can prevent problems by making time together. Some of that time should be dedicated to building their partner relationship. Some of it should be committed to untangling family challenges. A strong partner relationship can help the family survive and thrive.

Families are strengthened by having goals. A new stepparent might seek to discover the goals and dreams of each child. They can support and encourage each child’s dreams. Over time the parents can invite all family members to think about common goals. Family projects can be a catalyst for unity. Family fun can build closeness.

One of the dangers for stepparents is taking sides. It is natural to develop stereotypes about our children and stepchildren. “He is the stubborn one.” “She is the selfish one.” Stereotypes prevent us from helping. Thinking win-win is more likely to lead to helpful relationships.

When children are in conflict, a parent or both parents can meet with each combatant individually. Each child will benefit from being understood. “You are really tired of all the noise and confusion. You wish we could have peace.” After the child feels understood, it is time for synergy. “What can you do to make things more peaceful in your life?”

There are challenges in blending families. But there are also satisfactions when we patiently build relationships.

Gaining more balance between work and family
One of the most common questions I hear is, “How can I be successful in my career and still be the kind of family member I want to be?” Some people write to me about their children, their garden, their marriage, their business, their house-they are simply overwhelmed.

I have always believed that we should govern our lives by our compass rather than our watch. For most of us the trick is not to cram one more task into an over-stuffed life but to make our choices based on our enduring principles.

This is where a personal and family mission statement comes in. Your mission might be a few words scribbled on a restaurant napkin, or it might be a family constitution you have crafted and refined over the years. A mission statement teaches us when to say no and how to say yes.

When we have no mission statement, we are pushed and pulled by the demands of life. When we have a mission statement, we can set a steady course. Let me give you an example:

I have a friend whose personal mission is to serve. Because he is very educated and insightful, he imagined that he might be a prominent writer or a famous consultant. While he has been working on and waiting for those opportunities, many people have come to him for advice. He counsels with them and encourages them. He has helped many people. But he still is not famous. When I asked him if he is ever disappointed, he replies simply: “Nope. My mission is to serve. I am serving.”

Sometimes the fulfillment of our mission turns out differently from the way we expect. But if we keep a clear vision of our core principles, we will do the things that matter most.

Effective management of our lives must accompany our vision. I have written much about life management. We can be proactive. We can draw on the energy of the group. We can delegate. If we are to be effective we must be wise.

Yet the two biggest problems for most people in balancing work with family is that they fail to schedule family time and they let what family time they have be stolen by time-wasters. Every week, every month, every year we can schedule in family fun, family reading, family outings, family dates. We can honor those commitments.

When we have unexpected time together, we can be sure it is not squandered on mindless television. We can take a walk, read a book, bake a cake, or simply sit and talk. By being alert for precious moments together, we can be sure none of them is wasted.

How to deal with a rude teenager
The teen years bring special challenges. Teens generally want more freedom than they had as children. They are more influenced by peers and movies. They are often less compliant. They are more likely to be rude to parents, siblings, and others.

As teenagers try out their ideas on family members, they may sound very confident. If challenged, they may be very defensive. This can be irritating if we do not understand them. If we see a teenager as a relatively inexperienced person struggling to become an adult, we can be more patient and supportive.

Haim Ginott, one of the world’s greatest psychologists, tells that it is common, when our teens get in trouble, to take sides against them. He suggests that they need an advocate, someone who will understand their situation and help them. We do not condone misbehavior, but “in the most difficult situations [the parent] tries to see the extenuating circumstances and to provide aid and hope.”

It may help us to remember back when we were teens. Most of us felt very lonely and clumsy at times. If we were lucky, we had people who were patient with us, who loved us, who saw past the weaknesses.

Sometimes teens will make outlandish statements with bold bravado. “The problem with our country is . . .” It is very tempting to react to their arrogance and to their misinformation. If we understand them, we react in a different way. “I’m glad you are taking an interest in our country. What things might help us do better?”

Sometimes teens demand freedom to do foolish things. Again, it is easy to criticize them, but growth starts with understanding. “It would be fun to go to the lake for the weekend with your friends.” “You are a person who likes adventure.”

Understanding is not the same thing as agreement. We can understand their enthusiasm and still resist the conclusion. “What concerns do you have about the trip?” We can also start creative cooperation with our teens when we use the right words and attitude: “It would be fun for you to go to the lake with your friends. I have some concerns. Let’s talk about them and see if we can find some solutions.”

It is popular to portray the teen years as a time of storm and strife. The reality is that there are bumps and jars in the process of growing up but, when we are patient and understanding, the teen years can be a time of growth and closeness unlike anything that came before.

Helping Your Children Channel Their Creativity
Sometimes our children’s creativity delights us. Sometimes it makes us crazy. If we help them channel their creativity, we will have more fun with them and they will lead more productive lives.

The first thing parents can do is to help their children discover their specific talents. Some children show their creativity through telling jokes, some through building with blocks, some through thinking up new possibilities. If we notice the things that delight our children, we will have a good clue about their talents.

When we comment positively on their creativity, we encourage its development. “I love the way you sing.” “I enjoy the riddles you create.” “I love to see the things you create.”

The second challenge for parents is to help children channel their creative energy. When one child shows creativity in the way he teases his sister, it may be hard to appreciate his gift. A wise parent will find ways to celebrate the creativity while encouraging kindness. “You have a quick mind! I hope you will use your gift to appreciate your sister’s goodness (or sensitivity, creativity, determination, etc.).” Parents can support their children by providing materials and books to help them learn–whether a joke book or a model rocket kit or a sewing machine.

Sometimes parents do not notice their children’s creativity because it is expressed in subtle or private ways. One child may be a voracious reader. Another child may have a gift for kindness to animals. Parents do well to make an occasional inventory of the gifts they see in their children-and to make sure they are regularly acknowledging those gifts.

The third opportunity for parents is helping their children explore and further develop their creativity. Parents can discuss their children’s interests with them. They can take them to the library or museums. They can hook their children up with mentors. They can provide places for talent activities in their home.

One caution for parents: It is easy to stereotype children’s gifts. A child who loves experimenting may be labeled a scientist. It is possible that she loves learning or the experimenting rather than the science. Parents help their children when they allow them to explore many different expressions of their talent and creativity.

In fact, parents’ own enthusiasm for learning is contagious. When parents show a passion for learning about many subjects, it helps their children see learning and creativity as a lifelong adventure.

Dealing with Tantrums
Almost all parents have dealt with temper tantrums in their children. They are nearly universal and almost always frustrating. What can a parent do?

The first step in dealing with tantrums is understanding what the child is trying to communicate. Children have tantrums because their needs are not being met, because they don’t know any other way of getting your attention, or because they are overwhelmed. When we take time to see the world from the child’s perspective, we can be more helpful.

For example, a child may fight getting ready for school because he is afraid of school. A child may throw a fit because no one notices him unless he does. Or a child may scream and cry in the store because that’s how she has consistently gotten what she wanted.

It is often hard for adults to understand a child’s perspective. Adults commonly apply adult motives to children’s behavior. For example, infants may be called manipulators or show-offs; yet they are not normally manipulators, unless they have learned that manipulation is the only way to get their needs met. Likewise, children are not normally show-offs unless they learn by experience that they must act up in order to get attention. It is better to think of the message children are trying to communicate to us rather than try to play psychologist with their motives.

Parents may be unaware of stresses and disappointments in their children’s lives. Are they feeling picked on by older siblings or displaced by younger siblings? Is there a lot of stress in the family? Understanding the child’s life is good preparation for helping children.

So, how can parents prevent and deal with tantrums? The single most important thing parents can do is respond to their children promptly and sensitively. Many tantrums are a child’s expression of frustration: “Will someone please notice me? Will someone take an interest in my life and help me with my needs?”

A father once asked me how he should deal with his toddler who tugged on his pant leg and whined every evening. He told me that he usually ignored the boy because he did not want to encourage whining. I suggested that the father take a different course. I think the little boy wanted his dad to talk with him, take a walk with him, play with him. I encouraged the dad to go right to his son when he got home from work and initiate some activity.

Normally, an infant cries because of tiredness, hunger, or some other discomfort. When we respond promptly and sensitively to their needs, children are less likely to have tantrums.

Parents can also help their children by setting reasonable limits. For example, if a child whines at the dinner table, a parent can say, “You have the right to be unhappy. We have the right to a peaceful dinner. If you need some time for crying, you are welcome to use your bedroom. We hope you will soon be ready to rejoin us.” The objective is not to punish the child but to give him or her a chance to deal with feelings while, at the same time, respecting the needs of the family.

If a child frequently has problems with whining at dinner time, maybe the child needs an afternoon snack or a nap or some engaging activity. Many problems can be prevented if we recognize children’s needs and help meet them in sensitive ways.

One of the great tantrum traps is failing to enforce reasonable rules. One father took his boy to a movie. As they passed some video games at the theater, the boy begged to play. The father refused. They boy threw a fit. The father quickly pulled out the quarters and fed the machine to placate his son. The father sheepishly commented that it was easier to provide the quarters than to fight with his son.

But it is harder in the long run. If our children learn that tantrums get them what they want, they may become efficient terrorists. The father might have done several things differently. When his son asked if he could play a videogame, the father needed to consider whether it was appropriate. Did they have the time? Was the game appropriate for his son? If he decided that playing the game was acceptable, there was no problem.

If, for any reason, the father decided that it was not appropriate to play that game at that time, he could acknowledge his son’s interest while stating the limit. “It would be fun to play but we need to get our seat in the theater now.” If the son threw a tantrum, the father could wait patiently or merely invite his son forward, “Son, I am ready to go to the movie. Will you join me?”

The good news about tantrums is that they usually are part of a child’s life for a fairly short time. We can help children move toward healthy maturity by responding sensitively to their needs and setting reasonable limits

Tips on Creating a Peaceful Family Holiday
The most wonderful time of the year can also be the craziest. It can become the most exhausting and the most frustrating. There are practical ways to increase the peace and reduce the frustration of the holiday season.

First, define a mission for your holiday. It probably sounds odd to have a mission for your holiday, but at the least, you should have a clear vision of what is the most important part of the holidays for you. Is it being with family? Is it the festivities? Is it communicating with lifelong friends? Is it providing fun for your children? Is it connecting with neighbors? Is it the celebrating of life and light?

One of the big advantages of determining your holiday priorities is that it will allow you to see what is less important. Many holidays are ruined by the determination to cram everything good into a few days or weeks; holiday joy caves in under the pressure. It is wise to carefully decide what is most important to you and prune away those things that are less important or can be done in different ways.

Setting priorities is especially difficult if you and your partner or other family members have very different priorities. Even in such a case, it is a good opportunity to practice some understanding and synergy.

We have some good friends where the husband and wife have very different holiday priorities. The husband favors parties, food, friends, and fun. The wife favors quiet music and time with family. Rather than turn the holidays into an annual fight, they have built traditions that they both enjoy. Certain times are set aside for quiet family talking and caroling. Other times are designated for laughter, fun, and food. Because each spouse is sensitive to the other’s preferences, they have carefully crafted the holiday activities to be enjoyable for both of them.

After you have defined a mission for your holidays, set limits. You may decide that taking part in some traditional gift exchanges is burdensome rather than blessed. You may decide that making homemade treats for the neighbors should be deferred for a less hectic season. You may decide that the writing of cards should be replaced with occasional calls throughout the year.

We know parents of three young children who found that they annually bought many expensive gifts for their children without being sure that their children would be happy. In fact, gifts can become an addiction for children. Every year they may get more and enjoy them less. These wise parents told their children that a specific dollar amount of gifts is what they might expect. The children carefully edited their ambitious wish lists to the things that mattered most to them. The children appreciated their fewer gifts even more, and the parents surprised them with a few stocking-stuffer treats.

The most important tip for creating a satisfying holiday is to move from survival to significance. The most enduring holiday memories will probably come from serving someone who is lonely, visiting someone who is sad, or building a bridge to someone from whom you have become estranged. It is not enough to throw money into a pot. Lasting memories grow out of carefully chosen personal contacts. To make a truly significant holiday, be sure that love and service are written into your holiday mission. May it be joyous!

Let Your Values Guide Your Family Life
We all make thousands of decisions every day. Many of those decisions are based on habit. (That’s the way I’ve always done it.) Some decisions are based on pressures. (If I don’t get that done today I’ll be in trouble.) Many decisions are based on our fears. (If I’m not nice all the time they won’t like me.)

Some of that is inevitable. But if we are not careful, our life becomes like a ball bouncing frantically in a pinball machine. Our course can be determined by everything except the things that matter most: our values.

The trouble with values is that there are many operating at once. Consider the dad whose son got in trouble at school for pushing a playmate. The dad wanted his son to learn to respect his classmates. He wanted his son to become a good citizen. So he placed his son in front of him and chewed him out for his unkind school behavior. Of course the dad was doing something painfully similar to the thing that got his son in trouble. While talking of compassion he was showing insensitivity. We must model the values we hope to teach.

The challenge for family members is to keep the value of relationships at the heart of all decisions. Consider the importance of honesty. It is widely accepted that we should not deliberately deceive others. Yet the wise family member knows that there are many truths that do not need to be spoken. Sometimes kindness is more important than honesty.

Six values are commonly considered core values. Consider how you might implement and balance each of them in your family life.

Human relationships. People and our relationships with them are central. In the final analysis, many family decisions should be based on the question, “How will this choice affect my relationships with family members?”

Dignity and worth. Every person is more than a collection of behaviors. Each has inherent worth. “Does the person feel appreciated and valued by me?”

Integrity. Life is more satisfying when it is based on balance and trustworthiness. “Am I being true to my guiding principles?”

Competence. We appreciate when things are done well. “Do I strive for and appreciate excellence?”

Justice. We challenge unfairness and injustice. “Am I willing to stand up for those who are treated unfairly?”

Service. Life is based on helping each other. “Am I willing to help those in need?”

Not only can we thoughtfully apply such values in our own decision making, we can also acknowledge the use of these values by other family members. And we can initiate family discussions about how to apply our values to solving our family problems.

In such a discussion there is a temptation to challenge a family member’s decision: “But that’s not fair.” The best discussions are not usually about coming to some right answer but about understanding each person’s point of view: “I notice that you really value service.”

Our family tries to celebrate the goodness we see all around us. That goodness takes so many forms! We hope to cultivate this tradition of being talent scouts in all of our family members. By so doing we can learn from the values used by all the people we know.

Families provide a unique opportunity for testing, learning, and teaching values. The greatest principles of human living are learned at home.

What to Do When Kids Spend Too Much Time Online or Watching TV
There are two problems when children spend too much time watching television or surfing the net. The first problem is the unfiltered, negative influences that enter their lives: hardness, cruelty, violence, crassness, and sexuality. The second problem is what children miss when they spend too much time with media; they often miss out on vital human interaction. Television and the Internet have a useful role to play in our lives, but they are no replacement for caring and active involvement with other people.

Of course prevention is the best cure. Many families choose to have computers and televisions available only in a family commons area such as a study or family room rather than in private bedrooms. Some families also choose to make television viewing available only on a limited basis, perhaps one favorite show per day.

Another important preventive measure is to schedule regular, fun family time and one-on-one time. Whether you go play ball, go to the library, go shopping, or go for a snack, the active and interactive nature of such activities enhances relationships and aids in children’s development. Be proactive in scheduling time together so that television does not take over family time.

There are books with thousands of creative and fun activities for children. The activities range from nature explorations to cooking. Such activities can enlarge children’s talents and bring family members together.

A badly neglected but very effective way to help children manage their own viewing habits is the cultivation of an educated conscience. If children are provided with a warm human environment, lots of good music and movies, and good discussions with adults, they are more likely to choose appropriate entertainment for themselves.

Some children may be drawn to the sensational or negative that is common in the media. We can help them develop discerning taste by asking them how they feel about a particular movie, song, or idea. We cannot force them to favor edifying entertainment, but we can provide it for them and then we can help them notice and process their own reaction. We can help them cultivate a taste for material that is healthy and positive.

If television and computers have already taken over your family, you may need to plan some special activities to get people reconnected with each other and the real world. At the same time you may need to start setting limits on viewing. If your children are older, it may be helpful to have a family discussion about the culture you want to have in your family and the proper steps for cultivating that culture.

What to Do When Your Teen Is Disrespectful
Anyone who has or has ever had a teenager has probably experienced painful disrespect. Sometimes their disrespectful actions become chronic and almost unbearable. What should a parent do when a teen is insolent?

Set Teens Up for Success
Teenagers need several things. They need people who care about them and support them. They need to have an arena in which they feel successful. They need increasing freedom to make decisions and explore friendships. They also need limits.

Teens may often be prickly and argumentative, not showing that they want to be cared about. But they do. You can show that you care by taking interest in their lives, friends, and activities. You can be patient with their struggle to move into adulthood. A willingness to listen respectfully to their ideas, even when they are outlandish, is a powerful way of showing love.

Teens also need an arena in which they can be learning and experiencing success. They may get this from athletics, art, reading, friendships, drama, or a variety of other activities. Adults can help teens by supporting their efforts in an area of the teen’s interest.

The hardest thing to provide teens may be that artful guidance that provides them limits but also encourages reasonable independence. A wise parent discusses with teens their movie choices, quality of friendships, and expectations for dates. Successful involvement is to make it more like wise helping than dogmatic controlling.

Understand Their Point of View
Listening and understanding are effective ways of building a relationship. It is tempting to analyze or correct teens’ bold and sometimes inaccurate statements. It is generally wiser to be understanding. For example, if a teen complains that they hate algebra, the instinctive reaction is to say, “Algebra is easy. I did it. You can do it.” Such a response will probably make them feel inadequate and angry. On the other hand, we can respond to their complaint with “Algebra can be overwhelming, learning all those symbols and rules. It can be very confusing.” When we show understanding it helps teens feel valued. It ultimately helps them better solve their own problems.

Pick Battles Very Carefully
Some battles are not worth fighting. Highlighted hair, multiple earrings, or a wild shirt may be an expression of a teen’s individuality. We are unwise to attack such things. However, there may are many times when it is wise to discuss teens’ decisions with them: If your teenage daughter decides to pierce her tongue, you might say, “A tongue ring may seem very exciting to you. Other people might see it very differently. A doctor will see it as unhealthy. Many adults will see it as weird and inconvenient. What does it mean to you?” Sometimes just asking the right questions can help teens find their own answers.

Sometimes parents should take a strong stand. If you’re concerned that your teen is drinking and driving, you could say, “When you or your friends have been drinking, I ask that you not drive. Call me for a ride or get a cab. Do not drive. You are too important to me to be hurt as a result of drunk driving.”

Negotiate
Parents often get stuck in a battle of wills with their teens. Everyone loses in such a battle. As parents, we help our children get what they want-BUT in a way we feel good about and when those wants are beneficial. Teens want fun and friends. There may be times, especially in early teen years, when we will invite them to have a party at home rather than go to an activity that may be unsafe. Keeping a win-win attitude is the basis of real problem solving.

Part of the difficulty of being a teen is the discovery that parents are not perfect. That realization can actually be turned in to an asset when teens see you as humble, still learning, and willing to find better ways to be a parent. Invite their suggestions. Discuss possibilities with them. Above all, show them that they are important to you.

How to Help Your Teen Get Excited about College or a Vocation
Times of transition are frightening for anyone. Consider all the possible transitions involved in leaving high school and going to college: moving to a new city, breaking connections with many old friends, entering a large and formidable new setting, confusion about finding places, the rules of college life, and worries about money.

Likewise, the transition to work can be challenging for American teens. In Europe, apprenticeships help teens transition from full-time school to full-time employment. In the United States, the move from the fun and friendships of high school to the threats and challenges of the workplace can be very intimidating and lonely.

So how can parents help their teens make such transitions? The first step is compassion. Think about the times in your life when you were frightened or worried. Imagine what it may be like for your child. Let your feelings enlarge your understanding of and compassion for your teen.

Second, show your understanding by reflecting any concerns your teen shares. Naturally you do not want to plant fears. But if your teen expresses worries about any part of the new experience, do not merely dismiss it. Dismissing their worries can make teens even more lonely and worried. For example, instead of, “Don’t worry about it. You’ll be all right. A million other kids have been through this,” it is more helpful to say, “You’re worried about how you’ll fit in? It is overwhelming to go to a new place and make new friends.” Taking time to understand what someone feels sends a powerful message of comfort and caring. Understanding helps us feel less alone and less afraid.

Third, normalize the learning process. Research shows that it is helpful to tell teens, “It is normal to make mistakes. You probably will forget some assignments. You might mess up; that is normal. But you can learn from every mistake.” When your child knows that mistakes are normal, he or she doesn’t feel so stupid when a mistake is made or so dumb when he or she misunderstands an assignment.

Fourth, provide loving support. Write letters, visit, send e-mail, send cookies. Your child may not write back or acknowledge your support, but don’t be discouraged. In ways that are helpful to your child, send the message that you are supportive. If your child talks of quitting, encourage him or her to give it a reasonable amount of time. Don’t panic if your child insists on taking some time off. Help your child solve any problems that arise. Invite your child to tell you about things he has learned or friends she has made. Make the message of your love very clear.

Fifth, help your teen find balance in his or her new life. When you visit or talk on the phone, ask, “Have you worked out a study schedule? Have you made time for fun? Do you find time for exercise? Are you eating well?” Don’t overload your teen with questions, but be available to help solve problems. You may be able to help your teen stay sharp and balanced.

Since your teen is increasingly seeing himself or herself as an adult, you can help celebrate new adult roles. Let him or her tell you about best experiences, growth experiences, and aspirations. Support these. This is a time when the good things you do for your child will pay off. Every child has struggles, but your support will help your child move into adult life as a responsible, productive, and caring human being.

Helping Your Children Develop Their Talents
What a great lifetime investment parents make when they help their children discover and develop their talents! Some psychologists say the principle job of parents is to help their children become themselves-to discover their passions and their abilities and to put them to use in making the world a better place.

The process begins with very young children. Sensitive parents notice children’s preferences and respond to them helpfully. If a baby loves to shake things, the parent provides a rattle. When an infant likes to chew things, the parent provides a teething biscuit. When a toddler wants to climb things, a parent provides boxes and cushions. When a child wants to draw things, the parent provides finger paints, markers, and crayons.

Of course, parents cannot provide children with everything they want. But there is usually some good way to provide the experience they want and need. You may not want them to climb a fence, but you can help them run the hill. You may not choose to buy a fancy playset, but you can throw a blanket over a table to make a hideaway.

The first thing parents can do is help their children explore and discover various talents. Notice the things your child likes; comment on them. “You really love to watch bugs.” “You seem to have a talent for making friends.” “I love the way you express yourself with finger paints.” Loving parents can be very helpful social mirrors by giving specific, positive feedback to their children.

Most children are interested in or collect certain things. If your child loves insects, help him or her collect them. Get books about them from the library. Buy an ant colony. Go on bug safaris together. Ask your child to tell you what he or she has learned. Buy bug posters for your child’s room. Make displays together of your child’s projects and interests. Help your children discover and develop talents by noticing and supporting their interests.

At some point, most children compare themselves to other children. They might feel inferior to a child who is good at playing ball. They might feel like a failure at poetry. Parents can respond in ways that support all talents. “Yes, Susie is amazing at soccer. Tom has a real way with words. What great talents! But I have never known a person who understands bugs as you do! I love the way you are developing your talents.” Your child may want to explore other talents but should never understate his or her own talents.

I have a wise friend whose teenage son was interested in flight. The man encouraged his boy to check a book out of the library on gliding. After the boy read the book, the father took his son to the airport where he arranged for his son to go gliding with an instructor. What a great way for a teen to progressively explore his talents. As it happened, a combination of a big lunch and a bumpy ride had a big impact on the boy’s career plans.

One neglected area of talent development is helping children use their talents to make life better for other people. A child who is good at math might tutor a child who struggles. A child who loves nature might help a neighbor with her yard. A tender child might befriend a lonely child. We do not have talents so that we can compete with other people; we have talents so we can help them.

Life is rich when we learn to discover our talents, develop them, celebrate them, and use them to help other people.

Getting Your Child to Open Up to You
There are many things that only happen if you don’t force them to happen. Getting children to open up is one of them. The more we wheedle, cajole, or pester, the less likely they are to talk.

Sharing from the heart is based on a special kind of trust that is earned over time. Sometimes we get caught up in our own lives and then, when there is something we need to talk about with our children, we go to them and press them for answers. But the answers do not come until the relationships are strong.

My wife gets our children to open up by being there for them. She makes time for one-on-one activities with each of them. In addition, she tries to be there when they are likely to want to talk, whether it is after school, after the game, after the date, or at bedtime. She pays attention to the moods of our children and listens to anything they want to say. She remembers what things are happening in their lives, and she asks them about those events.

One of the best ways to build a relationship is to be understanding. Understanding is not the same as agreeing. If a child cries out, “I hate my brother!” you do not agree that the brother is indeed a detestable creature. But it is appropriate to say, “Sometimes we get angry with each other. Sometimes we feel very upset.” Such an approach allows a child to explore his or her feelings and heal from the inside.

Sometimes our children lose their trust in us because we try to guide them without understanding them. When I was a young man, a friend and I would engage in silly mischief in the hour between arriving at school and when school began. I thought it was inventive, but from the adult perspective, it was inconsiderate.

At the dinner table, I told my parents what “my friend” had been doing before school. They reacted with judgment and dismay so I did not tell them that I was a full partner in the mischief. Had my parents responded to my tale with “Hmmmm. How do you feel about that?” I would have laughed at the inventiveness of it, and they could have seen it from my perspective, “Ah, yes. It’s sounds fun.” The gateway to trust is the willingness to see the world from another person’s perspective.

The traditional wisdom is that we must walk a mile in the other person’s moccasins. Notice that the saying does not suggest we stay in those moccasins forever. When we have walked far enough with the other people’s perspective to appreciate their view of the world, then we can challenge them to see in other ways.

After we have established a relationship of trust, we can help our children develop a broader understanding of the world that includes the perspectives of others. We cannot effectively lead them to see the perspective of others until we have compassionately taken their perspective. That is the starting point.

What to Do When Your Child Is Being Bullied by Another Child
Hardly anything inflames parents like the news that someone is picking on their children. The traditional counsel to children who are bullied is to walk away or to fight back. Neither suggestion teaches long-term solutions. Children who are bullied often feel powerless. Just being able to share the feelings with a parent can diminish the loneliness and hopelessness.

Fear and humiliation can best be addressed by providing compassionate understanding. “I wonder if you felt very embarrassed and alone.” “You probably hate going to school.” “You must worry about getting hurt.” Depending on the age and personality of the child, it may be appropriate to hold the child and rock or sit together peacefully or go out for pizza and talk. You probably know what will best help your child feel soothed and ready to talk.

By listening sensitively to your child’s description of the problem, you will learn vital lessons to help you solve the problem. Does the bullying only happen when your child tries to join in with older children? Does it happen at the bus stop? Does it happen often or sporadically?

When your child feels understood by you, engage in problem solving. You might suggest actions that your child could try. You could also invite your child to think of any ideas that might help solve the problem.

When one of our children was in 8th grade, a boy who sat behind him in class would often ruffle his hair and tease him. It was very painful for our son. As we talked about the situation, it seemed possible that the tease was trying to get to know our son. We suggested that he try out a strategy. Next time the boy ruffled his hair, he might make a joke and strike up a conversation. A couple of days later our son reported to us the result of his new reaction. When the offender had ruffled his hair again, he turned around and said, “Many people like to run their fingers through my hair. I just ask that you not keep any.” He then turned the conversation to shared school interests. The two boys became friends. Many tense situations can be defused by using simple conversational skills.

A child can be taught to use humor. A child who is threatened by a bully might say, “You are so much stronger than I am and I don’t want to spend the next year in a hospital. Can we play soccer instead of fighting?” A child who is mocked or ridiculed might say, “Yes, I know this outfit looks very silly. But I like to think that I am years ahead of my time.”

This approach will not solve all bullying. You may help your child identify high-risk situations and avoid them. A teacher may help your child and the bully get acquainted so that the bully will not pick on your child. You and your child may need to visit with a school counselor or other helper to identify solutions such as changing your child’s class schedule or alerting a teacher to watch for the problem. A counselor may also suggest ways that your child can respond to bullying that are customized to the personalities of your child and the situation.

The good news is that bullying does not last forever. If a child knows that he or she is loved, can talk about stressful situations, and has strategies to try out, they may even learn beneficial skills.

Written by Bhushan Kulkarni

December 29, 2006 at 12:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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