Conducting These 3 “Mom Audits” Made Me a Better Parent

It’s easy to identify when my children misbehave. One child says “I want that toy” and yanks it from her brother’s hands. I’m not even two steps closer to intervene when I hear him scream his indignation as he plows his big sister over. Now both of my children are locked on the toy, red-faced and sobbing.
Intervention must happen, right? I high-tail it to my snarling children, pry them apart, and address the situation accordingly. Perhaps it’s my motherly instinct to keep them alive for as long as possible, but this element of knowing when it’s time to parent is not hard. The tricky part is implementing a discipline for each incident that will help my children become mature, responsible, considerate, functional adults who can think for themselves and pursue a healthy path in life.
No pressure, right?
Parents are the judge, jury, and executioner for our children’s behavior. That’s a ton of power that can be misused so easily. Many story lines in movies explore this topic of abusing power (e.g. “Captain America: Civil War,” “Spider-Man,” “Mean Girls”).
Some examples of how that can manifest itself in parenting are yelling at a child, verbal or physical abuse, emotional manipulation such as playing the “victim” to guilt a child, and so on.
Children can’t verbalize their emotional needs to us very well. It’s not like a kindergartener is going to say, “Mommy, I would grow up with a much higher self-esteem if you didn’t call me that.” It’s up to us to protect our children, even if it means protecting them from our potential abuse of parental power.

Getting to the heart of the matter

I truly wanted to learn how to discipline my children effectively, lovingly, and wisely. But how? The answers began coming when I read “How to Really Love Your Child” by Dr. Ross Campbell. He said so many parents simply address their child’s behavior. Instead we must explore the root of the issue.
We must seek our child’s heart.
I began asking myself new questions. “What is my child’s motivation for acting this way? Where did this pattern of bad behavior start? How can I speak into that?”
Shortly after, I started conducting what I call “mom audits.” A mom audit is when you analyze your own actions, feelings, motives, etc. in any given parenting situation. I think we audit our children’s behavior all the time. If I see my daughter melt down as she struggles to put on a sock, for example, I check the clock. My quick audit usually shows me it’s near nap or bedtime, hence the meltdown.
If we didn’t audit our children’s behavior, we’d have a difficult time assessing what they need. I believe the same is true for us. When we don’t check in with our own heart and mind, we might also miss the parenting consequences that follow.
For example, one day I noticed my three-year-old acting up more than normal. He’s a placid kid, but for some reason he couldn’t quick picking on his sister. My efforts to correct his behavior didn’t seem to phase him. He’d tease her and land in a timeout or lose a privilege. When I tried to speak with him about his actions, he just pulled away more. He didn’t seem tired, hungry, ill, or lacking activities to stimulate his mind. It was frustrating, and although I was keeping my cool, I began to see why some parents lose it.
That’s when I remembered to stop correcting the behavior and explore my son’s heart instead. What he was doing to his sister was wrong, but what was behind it? I began asking myself some tougher questions. Through my first mom audit, I found powerful answers.

My Three “Mom Audits”

1 | Attention

How much eye contact have I given my son today? Have I tried to meet the needs of his natural love language – quality time? Did my son act up because he wanted attention while I was looking down at my phone? Was this how his three-year-old brain dealt with that rejection?

2 | Understanding

Have I given him a chance to explain his side of the story before I launched into all the reasons why his behavior was unacceptable? How well have I listened?

3 | Affirmation

How often have I praised my son when he made good choices today? Have I provided any positive reinforcement when he made improvements? Have I taken time to kneel down and say how proud I am of him lately?
My audit helped me discover that my son craved more attention. He was going to get it by any means necessary, which meant much of it was negative. I decided to put down my work, got down on the floor with him, and watch as he connected his toy trains in a long line. The moment he saw me sit down, he lit up and began narrating all the important details about his toys.
Then, my son said, “Watch this.” He raced his train across the playroom floor until it crashed into a plastic dump truck on the other side. He turned and met my gaze. “Did you see that, Mom?”
I smiled and said “Yes.”
The smile on my son’s face said it all.
It was in this moment I realized, my son had just audited me. Our children see so much, don’t they? My son desperately craved my attention and when I finally consented, he accepted it with open arms.
My son and I still discussed his defiant behavior from earlier. You’ll never hear me say to stop disciplining your child. I believe it’s an act of love for parents to hold their children accountable, to be consistent, and to help them understand the consequences of their actions.
However, we must also pursue their heart.
All children are different and will crave different things. “The Five Love Languages of Children” is an excellent resource for helping you understand how best to express more love to your child. My daughter so often craves words of praise more than racing toys across the floor together like her brother. When I check myself with her, I ask if I’ve spoken those life-giving words to her soul yet.
Through this auditing process, I’ve become a student of my children’s hearts. My hope is that they’ll grow up knowing, even when their negative actions lead to punishment, they are valued, protected, and always loved.

How to Get Your Kids to Listen

When I call my kids’ names I am met with silence. My voice no longer makes their ears turn on. In fact it might do the complete opposite! They don’t hear me over the TV show or playing or reading books. My voice has lost some power.
Their lack of response makes me unsure if my directions are going to be followed. Often, they leave the room so I have a false sense of certainty that they are following directions. When they return 30 seconds later it becomes obvious they heard the noise of my voice but not the words.
It’s time to take the power back.
We need to get their attention before we start giving them tasks. We need to allow them to stop what they are doing so they can listen. Kids don’t multitask – they cannot think or play and take in extra information. Parents cannot remain patient and kind when completely ignored.
I am always surprised when visiting my kids’ classrooms at how the teachers keep things quiet and calm. How they aren’t yelling over the volume of the kids and how the kids turn their heads and listen.
In an interview with The New York Times, Robert Abramson, director of the Dalcroze Institute in Manhattan, says:

”When children can’t stop talking, teachers wind up screaming. You make a game of it, so children have to listen, move, balance, watch … combining established rhythm and movement techniques … help students learn to pay attention.”

So, I began to use a simple technique heard in many schools – a rhythmic clap that my kids have to repeat. This is acknowledgement that they know I am asking for their attention. It is an audible signal to stop what they are doing. It is clear and direct. It doesn’t make me want to scream and yell in frustration!
Kids like to move. Have you noticed how quickly they can memorize things, sing songs, and learn short simple tasks? This easy action of clapping is developmentally appropriate. Expecting them to pause the TV show or put down the toy when I start talking is always going to leave me frustrated. It is unrealistic to think they will learn to do that without a few beginning steps.
Clapping has become a training step in showing respect, responding in a timely manner, obedience, and how to listen for cues. It has created a habitual response that keeps their brain engaged.
What was unexpected was how it gave our kids independence and confidence to get our attention in a less demanding way. Do you ever tire of hearing your kids yell for you across the house? Or worse: from the bathroom? One way we helped our children learn to respond to us quickly was by letting them use the clapping technique to call for us. When we would come to them and praise them for not yelling our names across the house a new language was created between us – a language that allowed us to hear each other and communicate clearly, to give each other the attention deserved.

The Upside of Lying

“Did you just feed the dog broccoli? The broccoli I told you to eat before you could have dessert?”

“No,” she says.

Dog is under table licking something.

“Did you?”

“No.”

“Yes, she did!” her brother howls.

Siblings are really just vigilantes fighting for justice, truth, and equal consumption of vegetables. Without her brother as testifying witness, I would probably still be having the broccoli discussion.

I am not a proponent of lies. Generally speaking, I am anti-lie. However, I’m tired. I fight this battle every day on multiple fronts – they lie over who hit whom, who took what favorite toy, why all the toilet paper is unraveled into the toilet, who covered the sheets with crayon, who still needs to go to the bathroom before we leave the house. Meanwhile the dog is chock full of vitamin C and farting peaceably under the table. So I will take the upside when it’s offered.

Lying, it seems, is a sign of intelligence in kids. According to the New York Times, children who lie tend to have higher verbal I.Q. stats, and they also have better “‘executive functioning skills’ (an array of faculties that enable us to control our impulses and remain focused on a task) as well as a heightened ability to see the world through other people’s eyes.”

This last one is the one that gets me. Is lying actually linked to empathy? Could it be that this practice shows that my daughter, the artful dodger of truth, is able to anticipate my reaction to her actions and therefore manipulate me based on her intuitions? Could this be a good thing?

Psychologist Kang Lee would tell me that “[l]ying, in other words, is good for your brain,” at least developmentally speaking. It promotes creativity, problem-solving, and language skills in young kids. It makes sense in a way. It takes a fairly high level of calculation to decide whether the truth or a lie would bring about the most positive outcome and then craft the most believable lie that fits the occasion.

That being said, I think we can all agree that the need for honesty is paramount. Surely we can put that higher I.Q. to better use.

Lee suggests that there are ways to turn the tide in your favor. The best way to curb the lying? Let them see “others being praised for honesty” because it “promotes honest behavior” in themselves. If they see you celebrate others for telling the truth, they will want that kind of feedback. Praise for honesty makes them feel good and gives them a much-needed shove in that direction.

It sounds so simple. Too simple. I tried it out.

I thanked my son for his honesty when he confessed, unprompted, that he hid the remote so we couldn’t switch off his favorite show. It’s “Paw Patrol” for life around here. After the standard never-hide-things-in-this-house-because-it-is-already-a-pit speech, I praised the living daylights out of him for his truth-telling. In the periphery, I watched his twin sister study us, creatures in the wild enacting a new ritual.

That afternoon, she ran into the kitchen with her hands raised like a marathoner crossing the finish line.

“Mom, I shoved all the coloring books under the couch!”

“You what? Wait, why?”

“So no one else could use them when I went upstairs.”

“Um, okay. So don’t next time?”

“Okay, but at least I was honest, right?” she said, and tucked her hands behind her back, waiting for the praise.

She’s a frighteningly quick study. I hugged her and thanked her for telling me. Then we colored.

It doesn’t work every time, and I can see how this might turn into a lie-plus-admittance-equals-praise spiral towards chaos. However, if she’s as intelligent as her devious behavior predicts, then I will work towards the good in it. I will move that empathy in our favor.

I’m Scared My Child Will Turn out Like Her Dad

In my work with parents and children, there is one theme that creates the most anxiety: how likely is it that my child will inherit the abusive personality traits of the father? Worried moms observing aggressive behaviors, similar personality traits to a psychopathic ex-partner, or lack of empathy in their child will tentatively ask this question.

Moms who have left relationships due to abuse, violence, or other criminal behaviors in their partner fear these behaviors when they witness them in their child. In fact, any negatively-viewed behavior that’s similar to the child’s father is often a source of anxiety for these mothers. Sometimes the mother’s own trauma is triggered by their child’s developmentally normal behavior.

As children develop, they can be aggressive. They can hit, kick, bite, pinch, growl, and slap. Even if they’ve never observed violence or been punished physically, children can have volatile anger that they have difficulty self-regulating.

Equally, empathy takes time to develop in children. Humans develop empathy over time. For moms who’ve had an abusive partner with strong psychopathic tendencies, observing heartless or cruel behaviors in their kids younger than five years old can be very worrying. This fear is usually strongest if the child is a boy. Sometimes this fear leads to harsh punishments when a child lacks empathy or behaves aggressively.

As parents, we often place a lot of emphasis on genes as we look for similarities to our families in our children, but how much do genes play a role in psychopathy? Although genes have been found to play a role, no one factor has been pinpointed as the cause of psychopathy.

Parenting style and environment also play a role and can weaken the genetic risk. Researchers of these gene studies, such as the Minnesota twin study that’s often cited to explain the genetic influence, continue to emphasize the role of parenting and environment.

”The message for parents is not that it does not matter how they treat their children, but that it is a big mistake to treat all kids the same,” said Dr. Lykken. ”To guide and shape a child you have to respect his individuality, adapt to it, and cultivate those qualities that will help him in life.”

This means parents should not give up hope and instead parent the child that they have. A 2015 study of 780 twin pairs demonstrated the importance of the environment and parenting we provide for children with a genetic risk for psychopathy. This research has shown that life experiences during the infant and teen period can make all the difference to whether a child becomes a psychopath.

How to help prevent the development of antisocial traits in our children

Nurturing care

By soothing our baby, we provide the first steps towards healthy emotional development. When we comfort our baby, we help him learn to soothe himself and, over time, to soothe others. The love and care you give your child together with talking about his feelings teaches him these skills as he grows. Bruce Perry’s beautiful book “Born for Love” explores this further.

As part of nurturing care, I urge mothers to notice the ways in which their child is different from their ex-partner instead of focusing on similarities. Focusing on what’s the same tends to increase the mothers’ anxieties and impacts their relationship with their child.

Encouraging empathy as your child grows

As your child grows, you can begin actively coaching their empathy skills as their language and cognitive skills increase. Toddlers need carers to repeatedly model empathic behaviors. You can do this both in day-to-day interactions and in play.

You may see your toddler copying your empathic behaviors during play by saying things like, “Oh teddy sick, teddy hug.” Notice and praise these behaviors when you see them.

As your child approaches three, you may notice some empathic behaviors beginning to shape. Many parents report their child reflecting back feelings like, “Mummy sad,” or empathic statements such as, “Poor Mummy is sick.” Praise and notice these interactions.

Parents can help encourage the development of empathy by encouraging discussion about feelings, the child’s and others. Ask questions like, “Why do you think your friend Sophie cried when she fell off the swing at the park?”

Reading books and encouraging discussion about the characters’ main feelings can also help. Discussing with your child how you knew that someone was sad or angry gives your child a broader understanding of how we interpret feelings in others. Playing games or crafts in which you create faces is a fun way to emotion coach. Encourage your child to label her feelings and where she feels them in her body when she is happy, mad, or sad.

As your child approaches six, she will be increasingly able to discuss feelings and develop a sense that she belongs to a community. Children in this age group become more skilled at reading people’s faces and voices for emotions.

Parents can help children to develop empathy by avoiding “quick-fix” solutions or reassurances in response to feelings. These manifest in blanket statement like, “Everything will be all right.” In these situations, reflect what your child is feeling with phrases such as, “You feel scared of the spider because you think the spider will bite you” rather than “Don’t worry, you’re okay.”

It’s also important for children to learn to read your emotions empathically. If you’ve had a hard day, don’t hide your feelings from your kids. Instead, share with them that you feel sad or angry. It may not be appropriate to share every detail and we certainly don’t want to lean on our children emotionally but, by sharing the emotion, we help our children better develop their own empathy skills

Positive parenting with love and limits

It’s important to use positive parenting strategies with lots of love and limits. The heart of positive parenting is guiding behavior through noticing desirable behaviors and ignoring unwanted behaviors. Punishment is avoided wherever possible and empathic guidance is preferred. Limit-setting is also a core part of positive parenting. Children need firm boundaries to feel loved and cared for.

It’s very important not to harshly parent children with a possible genetic history for psychopathy because this will increase the risk rather than minimize it. Here’s an example of what positive parenting could look like:

Mom: “Jack, you hit your sister because you felt angry that she wouldn’t give you the toy when you asked. How did your sister feel when you hit her?”

Jack: “Sad. She cried.”

Mom: “Yes, and she was angry too. Remember I had to stop her from hitting you?”

Jack: “Yes.”

Mom: “What can you do when you’re angry instead of hitting?”

Jack: “Use my words or tell Mommy.”

Mom: “That’s right. Sometimes it’s hard for you. You can’t always do it yet, but I know that you’ll be able to soon if you keep trying. For now, I need you to come and help me in the kitchen until your feelings calm down.”

In this example, the parent coaches the child’s emotional reaction and uses connection rather than consequences (such as time out or losing points).

Provide nurturing care in a loving and safe environment, encourage empathy, and use positive parenting strategies to help prevent your child from developing psychopathy. Seek professional help for your relationship with your child or in the use of positive parenting techniques if you’re struggling to view your child in a positive way. Raising your child with support and guidance is necessary when your child exhibits challenging behaviors that trigger you.

If you fear your child’s genetic loading, there’s a lot that you can do, but always keep in mind that your child shares your genes as well.

Singing to Your Baby Will Help Relieve Postnatal Depression

It’s not uncommon that mothers of newborns feel the symptoms of postpartum depression. Whether the mother suspects she has the baby blues or depression, many symptoms may creep in.
After my first child was born, I felt anxious and weepy. People recommended different remedies, including getting outside, talking with friends, sleeping when the baby slept, and others. Although I slowly improved, no one ever suggested that I try singing lullabies.
According to a new study in the British Journal of Psychiatry, singing actually helps decrease the symptoms of postnatal depression (PND).
Women who encounter PNP often report symptoms of fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, tearfulness, irritability, and loss of appetite. Given this physical and emotional disturbance, women are usually willing to try different options to treat their depression. Why not try singing if it could help significantly?
The summary of the study, found in Newsweek, cited a goal of observing women facing PNP to see if singing lullabies would help alleviate their symptoms.
One hundred and thirty-four women were either placed into a workshop group of 10 to 12 participants where they sang lullabies, or another group where they carried on with their regular routines for 10 weeks. The women in the singing groups brought their babies with them and were encouraged to learn lullabies and other children’s songs. The sessions lasted around 60 minutes each.
Women in both groups reported an improvement of their PNP symptoms, but women in the singing group responded at a significantly quicker rate.
Rosie Perkins, a researcher of Imperial College of London, said, “Additionally, some of our other research with mothers has shown that singing led to greater decreases in anxiety and enhanced perceptions of emotional closeness than other social interaction.”
The groups brought a sense of identity and progress to the women because they found that they weren’t going through the obstacles of motherhood alone. And the singing itself helped relieve the depressed brain.
The positive effects of both singing and the camaraderie of women are not new findings when it comes to defeating depression. Think about the benefits of listening to a favorite song and how it can lift you out of a funk. Feeling less alone amidst all of the obstacles that motherhood brings is imperative, too – especially when it comes to depression after a birth of a child.
If you’re feeling the effects of PNP and don’t have access to a workshop like the women in the study, try singing lullabies more consistently with your baby. Your anxiety and tearfulness just may decrease at a quicker pace – and your baby gets to hear the soothing sound his mother’s voice.
Sounds like it’s worth a try to me.

More Parents Are Raising Perfectionists and Maybe it's Time to Chill Out

A recent study has found perfectionism has significantly increased compared to previous generations. Striving for perfection however, comes with a price.

I was 12 years old. It was my big break. I danced nervously in front of the second base plate, the sun hot on my neck. Usually I was relegated to the outfield, but not today.
Whack! The grounder ball barreled towards me, hopping and skipping off of the dry dirt. I bent down to catch it. I missed. I scrambled after it, finally grasping it in my hand. I threw it wildly to first base, not realizing that the runner had already rounded the corner and was heading for second. The ball sailed over the first baseman’s head and another runner crossed home plate.
It was all the other team needed to win the game. It was the end of my baseball career. I quit the team after that game.
I am a recovering perfectionist. I have spent most of my life trying to live up to ridiculously high expectations of my own making. If I couldn’t do something well, I wouldn’t do it. Fear of failure narrowed my experiences.
While it can have its merits, perfectionism can also be a curse. I see stirrings of it in my oldest: The pressure she puts on herself to do everything “right,” her reluctance to try new things for fear of failing, her quickness to apologize when she makes a mistake.
She and I are not the only ones.

A generation of perfectionists

A recent study, published in the Psychological Bulletin (a monthly academic journal published by the American Psychological Association), has found that perfectionism has significantly increased compared to previous generations.
Authors Dr. Thomas Curran and Dr. Andrew Hill define perfectionism as “a combination of excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations.” They used data gathered from almost 42,000 American, Canadian and British college students, who completed the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale test between 1989 and 2016. The test measures three types of perfectionism:

  • Self-oriented, or having unrealistic expectations of yourself
  • Socially prescribed, or perceiving unrealistic expectations from others
  • Other-oriented, or imposing unrealistic expectations on those around you

The results? The number of college students with self-oriented perfectionism has risen 10 percent, socially prescribed perfectionism has risen 33 percent and other-oriented perfectionism has increased 16 percent.
What has contributed to this rise in perfectionism over the past 27 years? Curran cites higher levels of narcissism, extraversion, and self-confidence combined with less empathy and victim-blaming in college students today. He also believes an increase in materialism, higher educational level expectations, competitive environments, and the pressures of social media to live up to other people’s public images are possible culprits.
Another contributing factor? Parents. As in us. We have become more anxious, demanding, and controlling than in previous generations.
In their research, Curran and Hill discovered that the “pressure to raise successful children in a culture that emphases monetary wealth and social standing has several consequences for the behavior of parents.” As a result, parents have become more involved in their children’s academic and social lives in an attempt to propel their children to a successful future.
Striving for perfection however, comes with a price. It’s a breeding ground for mental health issues. It has been linked to depression, poor body image, eating disorders, social isolation, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.

Steps we can take

So how do we help our kids (and ourselves) struggling with this need to be perfect? Hill recommends that schools and policy makers need to limit competition between young people in order to foster good mental health.
As parents we need to chill out. Curran and Hill discuss the impact of anxious and controlling parenting on children:

“Controlling behaviors include a combination of high expectations and high criticism and encourage children to adopt extremely high standards and strive for perfection, so to avoid criticism and gain the approval of their parents.”

Projecting our own worries and fears onto our kids results in hypersensitivity and an aversion to making mistakes.
We need to take a step back and stop internalizing our children’s successes and failures as our own. This is easier said than done in a culture that places so much emphasis and value on achievement, wealth, and social status.
Do you have a child who is a perfectionist? Here are some things you can do to help her find balance.

1 | Model positive behavior

Children learn by watching us. We need to embrace trying new things and being okay with making mistakes. Trial and error and how we respond to our own failures and those of our children matter.

2 | Acknowledge her feelings

Getting upset or frustrated when your child is madly erasing her fifth attempt to draw the perfect letter “G,” followed by crumpling her paper and throwing it to the floor, only exacerbates the situation. Remain calm and show empathy. Gently discuss how she is feeling, and work together to replace her negative self talk with positive.

3 | Focus on effort, rather than achievement

Place a greater emphasis on how hard your child worked, rather than on the outcome. Trying and failing is more important than not trying at all. Praise your child for being kind, sharing with others, showing compassion and trying her best. Reiterate that these things are far more important than winning or getting straight As.

4 | Love her unconditionally

Let her know that you love her regardless of whether or not she got the winning goal in the soccer game or scored 100 percent on her math test.

5 | Help her gain perspective

Rather than seeing the two words that she got wrong on her spelling test, help her to see the eight that she got right. Is she worrying about negative outcomes? Discuss with her the worst case scenario but also other possible outcomes as well. Help her to recognize that even if the worst happens, it is not the end of the world.
Teaching our children to find the value in making mistakes and letting go of the ideal of perfection is one of the greatest gifts we can give them and their future.

The Importance of Speaking "Happy" out Loud

Among all the books and articles we read, we often overlook (as I have) the importance of recognizing and speaking aloud when we are simply happy.

Emotional intelligence, the self-awareness of emotions and the way in which they affect human responses to various situations, is an essential skill we nurture in our children. As parents and caretakers, we may well find that one of our greatest contributions to the future is our purposeful effort to provide children with a greater understanding of their emotions. Our hope is that children will learn to navigate through the intensities and complexities of being human, and develop into capable and empathetic adults.

From contemporary children’s literature to “Daniel Tiger” episodes, the world surrounding the youngest generation is instructing children to identify when they are frustrated, impatient, hurt, left out, anxious, or nervous. These words (that I’m confident I did not hear or understand until far later in life) are being taught to toddlers, mine included. When children can identify intense emotions, they can learn patterns of behavior to help see them through conflict toward resolution and understanding.

The longer I’m a parent, the more I recognize how fortunate our children are to grow into emotional intelligence at a younger age than most of us experienced. At three years old, my son can tell me he’s frustrated when his ambitious building project isn’t going according to plan. He’s learning ways to cope and work through the frustration (tears and tantrums accompany of course, because he is a three-ager). My six-year-old can express when his anger is triggered by anxiety and is learning ways to work through those emotions.

By the time I gave birth to my third child, however, I felt there was a certain void missing among the emotional menagerie being taught to today’s children. However necessary and important and helpful it was to identify and understand certain emotions, there was a huge and wonderful emotion that often was left unspoken.

Happiness.

I’m not speaking of “happy” when it’s said while sitting around a circle for nursery rhymes, or while at a party singing “Happy birthday.” I’m speaking of all those genuine moments throughout our day when we are unaware that we are simply feeling “happy.”

Chalk it up to human nature or our interest in the dramatic and difficult but, more often than not, adults and children alike seem drawn to express and remember those emotions which are intense and, for lack of a better word, negative in connotation. We may go the whole day without incident, but wait for one mishap to pop up and often we give it the power to change our attitude regarding the entire day. It’s often the troubles and not the simple joys that we remember and speak aloud.

When we speak things aloud, we give them power to shape our hearts and minds. Among all the books and podcasts and articles we read, we often overlook (as I have) the importance of recognizing and speaking aloud when we are simply happy.

So I decided to do something different by the time I had my third baby. Whenever I felt my heart pouring over with joy or simply resting in contentment while I was holding her or watching her play, I’d quietly say this one word, “Happy.”

There are approximately 1000 ways to express happiness. I wanted to speak aloud one word that even my newborn could begin to hold on to and recognize.

Throughout our days, I’d find myself thinking I was “happy” more and more as I developed the habit of identifying and speaking aloud this fundamental desire we all possess but so often neglect to acknowledge. While I nursed my baby, or saw her discover something new, or watched as she reached out to touch a loved one’s face, I’d increasingly recognize within myself that I was “happy.”

Think of all those tiny moments that parents and caretakers experience throughout the maddening chaos of child-rearing. In sharing aloud this feeling with my child, I felt I was able to retain and share an emotion that would stay with us for longer than the fleeting moment in which it was experienced.

Then something wonderful happened.

One evening while the kitchen lay in chaos after dinner, my toddling girl came up to me with arms outstretched. I picked her up and began to slowly swing her back and forth.

Then I heard her say with a smile, “Happy. Happy.”

My husband and I both looked at each other with elation. This spontaneous but genuine expression she’d spoken went beyond her needs or wants. She was simply expressing her happiness at being held by her mother.

As the months have passed, our family’s habit of speaking aloud our happiness has affected every member of the household. Our older children now identify more often when they are simply feeling good. As my daughter has continued to encroach upon two, her emotions and ability to express them have also expanded. We hear when she is sad, or mad or frustrated.

But we hear more from her than anyone else when she’s simply “happy.”

Happiness is an inherent desire. It’s not something that must be taught, but it’s something that must be actively cultivated and savored if we are to appreciate the positive moments. Being happy is often a state of mind rather than the circumstances that surround us. In sharing aloud those positive feelings that make up our days, we are equipping our children with an ability to recognize and share in a collective and lasting joy.

How to Live a Life of Lagom (and Prosper) Like the Swedes

Still obsessed with the Scandinavians, people are now moving onto the Swedish lifestyle word: lagom.

Hygge, the Danish concept of coziness and contentment, recently took the world by storm, causing many of us to invest in warm socks, candles, and loads of hot chocolate. Still obsessed with the Scandinavians, people are now moving onto the Swedish lifestyle word: lagom. Loosely translated, it means “not too much and not too little,” the just-right amount of everything.

Books and articles are already flooding the market, telling us how we can live a life of lagom. Sweden ranks in the top ten when it comes to happiest countries, and many wonder if it’s their balanced approach to life that gives them the edge. Others worry that lagom will fizzle out in countries where moderation and thinking of the whole over the individual have never been the norm.

Like hygge, lagom encapsulates gratitude because it’s about contentedness in any season. Unlike hygge, lagom is not as sexy or indulgent. It’s easy to want to drink that extra cup of coffee or to take a break in the middle of the day and enjoy a book, hygge-style. It’s less appealing to consider giving up excesses in the name of lagom.

This may be the reason lagom is not being met with the unbridled enthusiasm of hygge. For every article extolling its benefits, there’s another one from a jaded author begging the world not to follow in Sweden’s middle-of-the-road footsteps.

What, if anything, can lagom offer us when it comes to balanced living? Is it a good concept for our kids to embrace?

Minimalism, but not exactly

Lagom has been described as minimalism, but in the just-the-right amount way. Whether it’s putting together capsule wardrobes, contemplating working overtime, or deciding how much dessert to eat, lagom guides Swedes in decision-making so they err on the side of moderation.

It’s not a bad idea to teach kids moderation as a guiding principle. Many developed countries raise children who live with constant excess in their lives, and parents worry about children growing up thinking only of themselves and no one else. Lagom’s focus on the group, and on only taking your portion and no one else’s, is both wise and considerate. The current interest in minimalism and simplicity in the States is evidence that this might be the perfect time for lagom.

The environmental impact of lagom is also positive. Buying less, wasting less, and using what you have are excellent ways to live sustainably and live lagom. Growing a garden, buying locally, and only purchasing the right number of needed items teaches kids that living with less can be more.

An attitude of moderation even carries over to relationships and how Swedes interact with each other, and this is where questions about the benefits of the concept arise.

Lola Akinmade-Åkerström, author of “Lagom: The Swedish Secret of Living Well,” says that adjusting to lagom was difficult at first. Having lived previously in both Nigeria and the United States, she wasn’t prepared for the way that the concept of lagom could make ex-pats feel like Swedes were simply distant and cold. The gregariousness and boasting of her former cultures was gone, and that left a lot of quiet. It took time for her to understand that this was simply a side effect of the lagomapproach to relationships.

Others aren’t as kind when talking about lagom in social interactions. When Richard Orange wrote a piece about lagom, he called it his “adopted country’s suffocating doctrine of Lutheran self-denial.” He bitterly claimed that lagom means “being moderate in personality, views, and politics,” leaving those who are outside of the norm or who live more passionate lives feeling ostracized from those who practice lagom.

Benefits of relational lagom

There are some landmines to sidestep when trying to incorporate lagom into relationships and social interactions. However, it can still be beneficial. Lagom squashes comparisons and boasting behavior. It’s the opposite of keeping up with the Jones’. It instead shifts the focus to making sure we’re not taking a slice of what the Jones’ should have, be it time to speak or items to own.

Akinmade-Åkerström says with time, she even felt comfortable with the silence that emerged when everyone wasn’t bragging about their accomplishments. “It feels liberating not to have to wear your accomplishments on your sleeve.”

It’s a cool kind of confidence we want for ourselves and our kids, the be-proud-of-yourself-and-don’t-constantly-seek-outside-approval type. There’s no striving to be loved for what we can do or what we own. Living lagom means we don’t teach our kids that having more, doing more, or bragging often is what makes them loved.

Living the right amount of lagom

The key to successful lagom may be applying it in, well, a lagom-like manner. Anna Brones, author of “Live Lagom: Balanced Living, The Swedish Way,” says her Swedish mother moved to the United States in part to escape lagom. Her mother found lagom to be “less about balance and more about the social equalizer; the thing that restrained you, kept you from being able to fully express who you were and what you wanted.” Her mother was an artist, so she found this definition of lagom particularly confining.

Still, Brones says that lagom crept into her family’s life in the way they ate, the way they interacted with the environment, and what they purchased. Her mother lived lagom in many ways without realizing it, and it became a normal way of life for Brones, one she appreciated.

Akinmade-Åkerström says the secret to lagom is to define it as optimal, to be used when the time is right in the way that works. “My personal lagom isn’t your personal lagom,” she notes.

We have to make our own decisions about when lagom is right for the situation and when it’s not, as well as what just-right is to us. This helps keep the lagom concept a guide, not a straitjacket confining our every move.

If balance and moderation are goals, lagom has a lot to offer. It can be applied to how often we engage in technology, consume sugar, or stay late at work. In its best form, lagom is the magic of good enough, knocking out the compulsion to work harder, do more, and never be satisfied in any area of life. Lagom, with its message of good enough, just might be the word we need.

Research Confirms Gendered Toys Help Create Inequality

The findings support previous research that has highlighted the strong influence of gender labels such as “for boys” or “for girls.”

Campaigners who call for toys to be marketed in non-gender specific ways have been backed up by a new study that shows how easy it is to manipulate young children’s ideas about gender and color. The study, carried out by researchers Sui Ping Yeung and Wang Ivy Wong from the University of Hong Kong, shows that young children are easily manipulated into beliefs about gender differences, which can be created by simply applying gender labels.

129 Chinese children between five and seven years old took part in the study. First, the children’s preferences for pink and blue were assessed. Then the children were split into two groups and given cards and toys of yellow and green. One group received no reference to gender regarding these colors. These children expressed no preference for a specific color. The other group was told that green was a boy’s color and yellow a girl’s. These kids went on to express preferences for the “right” color according to their own particular genders.

Pre-existing preferences for yellow and green were statistically controlled, so the resulting differences between the groups strongly infer that the boy/girl labels caused this effect. The obvious conclusion to be drawn from this is that when girls and boys express a preference for the colors pink or blue, it’s likely that this is because they have learned that these are the “appropriate” colors for their gender.

Wong said, “By applying gender labels, not only concrete materials such as toys could become gender-typed, but also abstract qualities such as colors, with children increasing or decreasing their likings for particular colors based on the gender labels available in their social environment.”

The findings support previous research that has highlighted the strong influence of gender labels such as “for boys” or “for girls.” The observations also support gender schema theory, which posits that from the earliest stages of social development children adjust their behavior to align with the gender norms of their culture. These norms then act as a guide for later behaviors and life choices.

Wong also explained that “blue for boys” and “pink for girls” is not just a Western construct, but something that has become prevalent in Asian societies as well. “Many gender differences and stereotypes in developed Asian regions resemble those in the West, which is not surprising given the high degree of Westernization and the prevalence of gender color-coding typical of Western cultures in Hong Kong.”

In addition to looking at kids’ color preferences, children were tested on how well they completed puzzles. No difference was found in performance when the children were given yellow and green puzzles unless the children had been exposed to gender labels, in which case the boys outperformed the girls.

Jess Day from Let Toys Be Toys, the prominent UK campaign to end gendered toy marketing, commented on the findings. “This interesting research backs up our analysis, that labelling toys and books by gender isn’t just unfair or unkind, it actually helps to create inequality. When we tell children that ‘x is for girls/boys’, they don’t just learn that a whole bunch of fun stuff is ‘not for them’, they’re also being fed the idea that their gender defines everything about them, backing up all the other stereotypes about girls and boys, men and women, that children see and hear every day.”

It’s clear that, as the next generation of kids gets older, it will be important to let them choose whatever colors they want.

8 Psychologist-Backed Tips for Improving Communication with Kids

When you communicate well with your child, it leads to a strong relationship, greater cooperation, and feelings of worth. These expert tips can help.

There are two things that I think the TV series “The Simpsons” got spot on when it comes to communication between parents and kids. One is that kids can truly call their parent on repeat for as long as it takes. Many of my days involve a soundtrack of “Mom” call-outs. Lately, there has been a space of actual minutes between each “Mom” called out in my home, so maybe it doesn’t last forever.

The other is that parents often don’t know how to talk to kids. Parents frequently resort to long lectures in which they completely lose their kids’ attention. Like Bart and the other kids in “The Simpsons,” it just sounds like blah, blah, blah. This is unfortunate and frustrating for parents.

Most parents excel at giving instructions or providing facts to their kids. For example, “Please get ready for school” or “You need to watch for cars when you cross the road” are things parents generally have down pat. Struggles with communication often happen when big feelings are involved. This might be your child’s feelings, your feelings, or both.

Along with getting kids to listen, some parents tell me they struggle to get their child to communicate with them other than in one-word answers. They want to know how better to connect with their child so that their child can share thoughts, feelings, and experiences with them.

When you communicate well with your child, it leads to a strong relationship, greater cooperation, and feelings of worth. When communication is a struggle, it can lead to your child switching off, conflict, and feelings of worthlessness.

How can parents talk to kids when kids (or parents) are wrestling with big feelings? How can we talk so kids will listen? How can we encourage our kids to talk to us? Below are my top tips that I’ve gleaned from the experts over the years. I use them in my clinic and as a parent.

1 | Use “Door Opener” statements

These statements encourage your child to say more, and to share ideas and feelings. They tell your child that you’re really listening and interested. They also communicate that you think her ideas are important, and that you accept her and respect what she’s saying.

Examples of “Door Opener” Statements:

  • “Wow”
  • “I see.”
  • “Oh.”
  • “How about that!”
  • “Really?”
  • “Tell me more.”
  • “That’s interesting.”
  • “Amazing”

When you use these statements, your child will get the sense that you’re truly interested. Children are more likely to share when they think you’re engaged with what they’re saying. It goes without saying that you must also look up from what you’re doing and focus on them. The words alone won’t count.

2 | Use more “dos” than “don’ts”

Some kids hear a lot of “don’ts.” Often parents know what they don’t want to happen, so they lead in with a “don’t” statement. The downside of “don’t” statements is that they fail to promote the positive behavior you want to see. If anything, they reinforce the behavior you don’t want.

Imagining talking to your child as you talk to your friends can help break the “don’t” habit. We would rarely say “don’t do this, don’t do that” to our friends when they come to visit. We instead use more open and respectful suggestions. Swapping our “don’ts” for “dos” can look like this:

  • “Don’t go outside, it’s cold,” becomes “Stay inside please. It’s too cold to play outside.”
  • “Don’t hit your brother” becomes “Play gently with your brother.”
  • “Don’t color on the carpet” becomes “Please do your coloring on the table.”

3 | Talk with your child, not at your child

Instead of only giving instructions, engage your child in a two-sided conversation. This means both talking and listening to what your child has to say. This can be challenging when your child has a limited vocabulary or interests, but it’s important to practice if you want a healthy relationship now and in the future.

This is a good habit to get into because, when your child is more skilled verbally, they’ll want to talk with you. When we talk “at” a child, we give the message that their thoughts and feelings are not important or interesting, and that the parenting relationship is about the child doing what you want.

4 | Use “I” statements to communicate

Parents often speak to their children with “you” statements: “You’re so messy,” “You’re a pest,” or “You’re silly.” Using “I” statements can help us more clearly communicate how our child’s behavior is impacting us. It also gives your child more of an idea of what’s expected of him and puts greater responsibility on him to change.

Here are some examples:

  • “You’re a pest” becomes “I don’t feel like playing because I’m tired.”
  • “Your bedroom is a disgrace” becomes “I need you to pick up your things.”
  • “You don’t make any sense” becomes “I don’t understand. Can you explain it again?”

5 | Make requests important

Asking if a child would like to do something but being vague in your request is a recipe for your kid ignoring you. In order to make sure your requests are heeded, you must first ensure you have your child’s attention. Then speak with firmness to show that you mean what you say, and give the child a reason why he must do this thing at this particular time.

If your child is engaged in play, it can be hard to shift his attention to you, so either pick a different time or know that you’ll have to put in the work to engage your child’s attention first in order for your request to be successful.

A successful request would look like this: “James, I need you to pack away your toys on the table now please. It’s important because there is no space to eat on the table.” It will work better than “Can you pack away your toys? I’ve already asked you twice!”

6 | No unkind words and labels

Some common but unhelpful ways of communicating with kids is to use ridiculing, shaming, and name-calling. This communication styles can lead to problems in the parent-child relationship. Avoid using statements like “You’re acting like a two-year-old,” “You’re an embarrassment to me,” or “You’re a bad boy.”

Parents sometimes use these types of statements to get their child to behave. These statements only leave your child feeling disliked, and negatively affects her view of herself.

7 | Use kind words

Kind words create a good relationship and better communication with your child. Children who are spoken to with appreciation and respect also have better self-worth, which allows them to thrive. Instead of, “You idiot, I told you that would break if you played with it in the bathroom,” say “Let’s get the dustpan and clean it up. Accidents happen.”

Other examples of kind words:

  • “Thank you for helping me with the dishes.”
  • “You did a good job of getting your room clean.”
  • “That really makes me feel good.”
  • “I like seeing you play nicely with your sister.”
  • “I love you.”

8 | Show your child you accept them

When your child knows that you accept her as she is and not how you want her to be, everything changes. It allows your child to change and feel good about herself. When your child feels good about herself, she is more likely to get along with other people. She also feels safe to share her thoughts and feelings.

When you threaten, command, preach, and lecture your child it makes her feel like she is bad, that you don’t like her, and that she can’t do anything right. For example, if your child says, “I don’t like those vegetables,” and you respond “Eat your vegetables. You are always trying to get out of it. You’re acting like a spoiled toddler,” your child will be left feeling disconnected from you and believe that you think she is bad.

Instead, try a winning way of talking with your child. Substitute something like this for the previous statement, “It’s hard for you to eat food that you’re unsure of or didn’t like the taste of last time. I’d like you to try to eat at least some so you can see how you find the taste today.” This statement acknowledges your child’s struggle and provides a suggestion of how she can handle the situation.

Accepting your child does not mean accepting all behaviors, it means communicating in a way that doesn’t shame her.

Good communication is the heart of more harmonious homes and is the key to a healthy relationship with your child. It provides a place your child can thrive and grow from. Good communication with you forms the basis of good communication with other people as your child grows into an adult.

Keep working on these communication skills. It can be hard at first, especially if you were parented by an authoritarian parent. Like all skills, practicing helps. When you slip up, repair it with your child and start fresh.