Category Archives for Relationships

Unplug to Reconnect

Never before has our culture been faced with technology at our finger tips that continually distracts us with it’s seductive sounds and stimulating visuals. I’m convinced that the sudden expansion of personal technology devices has completely outpaced our ability to manage it. It's time to unplug and reconnect. 

There are daily signs and signals that families are busier than ever. Recently two retired men lamented to me that their grown children don’t attend a church. Both men shared that their kids say that they’re too busy…right now. How often do you go to bed with everything done on your to-do list?

But wait! I thought technology is meant to improve communication and make our lives easier and less stressed and less busy? How is it we don't have time for those things (or people) that are important? Something doesn’t seem to be working right.

Unfortunately, we’re not working right. It’s too easy to lose sight of what’s really important and what’s of true value. And the bells and whistles of technology have hijacked our attention and ability to focus. 

Conversations around the dinner table – on the rare occasion when families eat together - can often be interrupted. Too often parents and/or children have their phone positioned next to the fork. It’s become the new table setting. Not only that, in many homes the TV is also on during the meal, which further inhibits meaningful conversation.

Technology promises to connect people like never before. But, combined with our busy lifestyle, we’ve never been more disconnected from those who mean the most to us. The dopamine response we get when the device dings or beeps or rings, causes us to divert our attention immediately, regardless of what we’re doing…even in the middle of conversations.

Technology Talk

But, it doesn’t have to be that way. The first thing our family collectively did was identify how we were being affected. Then we discussed why it was important to make changes. The next step was to get everyone on the same page, or to at least understand the rationale. We then identified simple strategies we could implement to eliminate distractions and improve communication.

To give you some ideas, just a couple of the strategies we agreed to included: no phones at the dinner table; and no looking at your phone or any device when talking to each other. Nothing complicated but, in some cases, not easy either. As a result, communication improved, conflict reduced, and common ground was reached.

Steps You Can Take
  • How have you noticed technology has interrupted your work or family life?
  • What are the top three changes that your family can do to improve communication and reduce distraction?
  • Have a family meeting and get everyone’s input and set a new course by setting up guidelines to help manage the technology in your home.

Compliment or Criticize: How to have healthier relationships

Have you ever tracked how many times you correct, criticize, or condemn your kids or spouse? How does that compare to the number of times you compliment them? Face it; kids are always going to be doing something wrong. In fact, I don’t know any of us who are perfect, including adults.

But, how often do I expect perfection from my children and point it out to them when they’re not perfect? On the other hand, how often do I notice and acknowledge when they do something right or make good choices?

Its All in the Numbers

The research by Dr. John Gottman, from the Gottman Institute, on married couples is significant and should be applied to our relationship with our children, as well as our spouse. In studying married couples, they were able to predict those couples who’d stay together and those who’d split. To do so they analyzed the ratio of positive to negative interactions during times of conflict. It was determined that the relationships that were the healthiest exhibited a compliment to criticism ratio of 5:1. Meaning for every one critical comment the partner conveyed five acts that would be considered positive or affirming.

So in applying this to parenting, I had to assess my compliment to criticism ratio not just during times of conflict but also during regular interactions. To do so I kept track of it for three days in a row. The result was embarrassing. I had no idea. I thought I was being positive overall. I was wrong!

If you do this and find that your ratio is less than 5:1, don’t be discouraged…you’re in good company, unfortunately. It is just not our nature to be intentional about complimenting our family members. We’re much more likely to be encouraging to our friend's kids than our own…it’s just human nature. But it (like many traits) is a skill that with intentional focus can change rather quickly.

A Case for Compliment

For example, there was a period when I was becoming concerned with our daughter for always being so critical with her siblings. I admonished her a couple times for being that way. But then I felt prompted to examine myself to see if perhaps I was contributing to her attitude. Very quickly I realized that I’d become complacent in my words of encouragement and affirmation toward her. Words that feed her soul and are aligned with her love language.

Over the next couple days I was very intentional about spreading words of praise, affection, and encouragement to her. The carry-over was dramatic. She had been passing out what she’d been getting. Suddenly she became less critical and much more patient with her siblings.

What kind of environment do you want your home to be like? Which do you think is a better environment for your spouse and children? The choice IS yours.

Here're some ideas to help improve your ratio:​

  • For three days, track your compliment to criticism/correction ratio.
  • When you find the need to correct, be intentional about saying at least two or more positive words of encouragement or find a way to compliment as well. If you've been too negative over the years, there are positive self-talk recordings especially for kids that will help build them up.
  • Look for what you see your kids doing right…even little things where they have demonstrated intent or initiative...and make it a point to acknowledge it in a sincere and positive manner.

How to Instill Great Qualities in Your Kids

Modeling is very important. We all ‘judge’ people more by what they do than by what they say. My kids are no different. No matter what I say, they learn mostly and model closely what they see in me. So I have to be acutely aware of the qualities I'm displaying.

For example, my wife and I are runners. We’ve been doing it pretty much our whole lives. It’s what our kids have seen us do since they were born. Now our three oldest kids are runners. They have talent, but so do a lot of other kids. Talent doesn’t account for the initiative they take to call their friends to meet them at the track. But they have seen us suit-up and head out the door, regardless of the weather, for as long as they can remember.

So how can we be diligent about instilling qualities in our kids (or in people we lead) that we feel are important? A very valuable exercise is to identify the characteristics and qualities you most desire your kids to develop and display.

Simply ask yourself this question, “What are the most important characteristics and qualities I’d like (name of child) to have?" 

STOP HERE AND WRITE DOWN YOUR  ANSWERS BEFORE MOVING ON.

What does your list look like? Some of the common terms that people identify include: honest, compassionate, truthful, kind, caring, patient, loving, gentle, happy, joyful, competent, hard-working, persistent, resilient, self-confident, thankful, grateful, gracious, generous, good listener, respectful, enthusiastic, passionate, peaceful, positive, optimistic.

If you have more than five traits listed, take a minute and identify the top five characteristics…the order doesn’t matter at this point. As you review each answer on your list, ask yourself this very important question, “How well do I display and demonstrate these characteristics?”

Here’s the hidden value in this exercise. Chances are, the top qualities you chose for your children are also the most important traits you aspire for yourself, whether or not you consistently model those behaviors. Now that you know what they are for yourself, you can be intentional about displaying those behaviors too.

One of God’s fundamental laws is of planting and harvesting. Galatians 6:7 states, “You will always reap what you sow.” It applies to every area of life, including parenting. The law proclaims that I have to first give away whatever I want more of.

So it’s best to be intentional about the seeds we’re sowing. If you have ‘compassionate’ on your list, do your kids see compassion in you? If you had ‘patience’ on your list, do you model patience for your children? I think you get the picture.

Teach your children to choose the right path and when they are older, they will be remain upon it.

Proverbs 22:6 NLT

The concept is pretty simple. If I want my kids to be compassionate, then they must see compassion in me…I must plant seeds of compassion. Why should we ever expect our children to produce something we’re not sowing? When I tell my kids to be kind, but I’m not, I lose credibility and authority in their eyes.

When I tell them to be positive but they hear me complain when something goes wrong, what message is that sending? How are they likely to respond when they get frustrated or life deals them a bad hand? They’ll most likely respond in ways they’ve seen me respond.

Because I want what’s best for my kids, I know that the qualities and characteristics they develop growing up will be fundamental for their ability to function effectively and be successful in living out God’s call for their lives. A big part of that is developing and growing in Christ-like character.

In case you’re wondering, according to 2 Corinthians, here are characteristics Jesus Christ displayed:

  • Love
  • Service
  • Sacrifice
  • Kindness
  • Gentleness
  • Boldness
  • Dependability
  • Compassion
  • Empathy
  • Courage
  • Tenderheartedness
  • Gracious & Generous

Whether a Christ follower or not, those are probably characteristics anyone would like their kids to have. If I can help my kids develop those qualities, they’ll be well positioned to live a great life with meaning and purpose. The best way I can help is to be intentional about living them myself…planting as many seeds as I can.

Take Away
  • Make a list of the most important characteristics and qualities you’d like your children to have.
  • Narrow the list to the top five.
  • This week, be intentional about modeling each of those characteristics. Don't preach them...practice them yourself. 

Regain Control and Respect

The moment I allow someone else’s behavior (or words) to affect how I feel, I’ve given that person power and control over me. Have you ever realized that? Has that ever happened to you? It has to me...with kids and adults.

Kids have the innate capability to say things or behave in a way that can trigger a reaction, which is really what they want. And until kids get through their teen years, they lack mental maturity and their behavior and words can be erratic. Let's face it, kids don't always make the best choices or do things in their best interest. It's part of maturing.

Plus, kids are really perceptive and quickly learn when and how they can push our buttons for their benefit. If my kids can tell that their behavior will affect my mood, they are more likely to repeat that behavior, even if they don’t get what they want. It gives them a feeling of control, which is an innate desire.

When our kids were young and would pout, it was their attempt to sway my decision. If I relinquished and complied with their request, it’d be more likely that they’d repeat the behavior and pout again next time they wouldn’t get their way.

Not allowing their behavior to impact how I felt didn’t mean I’d ignore them or pretend I didn’t care. I could still acknowledge what they said and how they felt without it changing my mood. Making a comment to them such as, “I can see that you don’t like my decision and I’m sorry about that,” affords them the satisfaction of at least knowing they’ve been heard.

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How to Fess Up When You Mess Up

Relatively speaking, I know a lot and have much more experience than my children. But, I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. I make wrong choices in things I do at work, at home, and in how I parent…just ask my kids. Sometimes an apology is in order.

Because making mistakes isn’t what really damages my relationship with the kids. It’s damaged when I both know that I made a mistake and I brush over it, or fail to recognize and admit that I made a mistake. Basically my pride can get in the way and I don’t want to feel like I’m conveying weakness or diminishing my authority. However, the opposite is true.

When I man-up and admit I was wrong, I grow in stature in the eyes of my children (and my wife). As we know, children model what they see. When my children see me fess up when I mess up, they are much more likely to do the same. The same holds true in any relationship whether at home or in relationships at work.

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Transform Feedback and Your Future

Do you invite and welcome feedback and suggestions so you can get better? For many years, I didn’t. Without doing psychoanalysis, I’m guessing it’s because I didn’t want to feel like there was something wrong with me. I didn’t want to admit that I might have been saying or doing the wrong things.

However, I eventually realized that feedback was my friend. I adopted a mindset that there’s no such thing as failure, only feedback. I also realized that if I would be more open to change and grow, it would prompt my kids to be more accepting of feedback, as well. Thinking about them instead of me was key.

When I, as a parent, solicit feedback and am open to change, it models a very critical attribute that will be fundamental for my kids’ future success. Watching me seek and solicit ways to improve will help prepare them for life, whether they enter the workforce or start their own business.

If they learn how to welcome and accept feedback at an early age, they’ll be able to demonstrate unusual maturity when they receive it from managers or customers, which will give them a leg up.

There is a unique type of feedback, which I call Transformation Feedback, and I’ve found it to be much more effective in creating sustainable change than traditional feedback. This type of feedback isn’t focused on what a person does wrong.

Instead, the focus is on what the person can do in the future…suggestions for improvement. Traditional feedback is a review of what’s happened in the past. Too often people view feedback as criticism or an attack on their character and immediately enter into defense mode. And, often the person providing the feedback can come across as negative and judgmental.

But asking my kid’s questions like, “What can I do to be a better dad?” or “How can I be more supportive?” puts the focus on what I can do moving forward, not on the mistakes I’ve made in the past. It gives me something to focus on as a parent, not something to defend or feel bad about. Plus, it provides the kids with a voice and an opportunity to contribute directly to my improvement.

If you’re brave enough to try this, it’s important to be consistent in the process and not just give it lip service. Genuinely seek suggestions, take action on the suggestions, and then ask for follow-up on how you’re doing. Research has shown that regular accountability from someone we trust can significantly enhance our ability to realize sustainable change.

Try this method with your spouse as well. Do you have people you lead in the workplace? Try it with them. You might be surprised how quickly it can transform you and those you lead.

· Assess how open are you to feedback and how do you normally respond?

· When you give feedback, is it focused on what your kids did wrong, or suggestions for improvement moving forward?

· For more information and a worksheet for parents to help guide the process, click the blue download button below to get the PDF. Feel free to adapt to your specific situation.

The Ugly of Youth Sports

Last week I had the pleasure of watching my 17-year-old daughter compete in the Colorado State Track & Field meet. Few things provide pleasure like watching your child do something she loves and is good at. There is complete joy and pride in watching the fluid, repetitive motion of her legs propelling her around the track. As best I can, I try to just embrace the moments and give thanks for her ability and the satisfaction it brings her mom and me to watch her compete…regardless of how she does.

But, unfortunately, I also witnessed the ugly side of youth sports…and it’s not isolated but prevalent throughout all of the youth sports and as well as the performing arts.

The ugliness is when I witness parents whose mood changes because of the way their child performed. It’s the parent who gets sulky – or in some cases down right bitter - because her child didn’t perform as well as expected.

As a parent, I have to be aware that if my mood or attitude changes based upon my child’s performance, then I’m living through my child. That type of parenting is unhealthy for the child and the parent.

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Changing Your Life [Phase 3]

Have you ever started making progress toward a goal or change in your behavior only go find yourself back where you started? When that happened, who’d you blame? This discouraging scenario is played out over and over again in home after home and year after year. 

The problem for many people isn’t that they don’t have a desire or don’t take initiative. The problem is that after they get started something happens to interrupt the progress they made and they get off track and revert back to the behaviors that caused the problem in the first place.

To prevent this from happening it’s essential to create a supportive environment so that you can stick with the changes that you started. The previous post focused on phase two in the behavior change process. So if you haven’t, check out that post first. Again, you make a new behavior stick by creating a supportive environment...this is the most critical ingredient.

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The Life You’re Designed to Live

Are you living the life you were designed to live? A popular quote attributed to John Dryden is, “We first make our habits, then our habits make us.” Another way to say that is, “We first make our choices and then our choices make us.” The reality of this concept came to life for me many years ago, back when I was growing up on a farm in South Dakota.

Both of my grandfathers were farmers who lived similar lives of hard work and toil, as is a farmer’s life. Where their paths diverged was when they retired. Although they both moved off the farm and into town, one retired from farming and the other retired from life.

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