Tag: family relationships

June 29th is National Hug Day – Show Someone You Care

Physical contact is something that makes humans human. Whether it’s a pat on the back, a friendly handshake, or a big hug, this contact has always been a unique way for us to express our emotions and our connection to one another.
And science has pointed out there’s a good reason for that—hugs stimulate the hormone oxytocin. In the brain, oxytocin is involved in social recognition and bonding and might be involved in the formation of trust between people. According to a National Institutes of Health article, people who get lots of hugs and other warm contact tend to have the highest levels of oxytocin.
So hugging is great for relationships, and if you are not comfortable doing this, it means you just need more practice!
Here are six ways you can show the people in your life that you care:

Spend time with them—let them know that you are available to do whatever they want—even things you don’t like to do! Old movies—perfect. Run errands together—great. Clean out closets—absolutely.
Write a note they can read and reread and keep for those moments when they need a lift or when you are apart.
Have a genuine conversation with them—about whatever they would like to talk about—favorite memories, movies, gardening, hobbies. What are the four or five things they love to talk about? Go somewhere and have a two-hour conversation without distraction.
Let them in—what are you thinking about? Dreaming about? Worrying about? They want you to share with them.
Let them catch you looking at them—if they realize you are paying attention, they will remember that you care. A quick smile or glance will do wonders for their day.
Touch them in a caring way—a playful tap, a quick hand or shoulder squeeze, a hug that is a bit longer than usual.

These are all small acts that can mean a lot and don’t take much effort. We simply need to be more mindful about doing them.
Use June 29th—National Hug Day in America—as a reminder to show someone you truly care.

Sharing memories, creating connection

Recently, grandson Reece asked if he could interview Cindy for a school project. He had chosen the subject of travel and began with this question: “Why did you decide to travel the world?” Ten questions later, Reece knew more than anyone else about his grandmother’s passion for seeing different places.
A couple of years before, granddaughter Haley interviewed Cindy about her early years—grade school through high school. It was fascinating to watch Cindy reflect back and find moments and stories she had not thought about or spoken about for a long time. It was also nice to watch Haley and Reece be leading the conversations thoughtfully and intentionally—so easy to forget what kids are capable of doing.
Look for opportunities to share
Kids don’t often ask about the past; it’s usually only as adults that we become curious about our parents and their childhoods.
Recently, I ran across some photographs of my father in India and Burma during WWII. It reminded me that there is a lot about my parents that I don’t know, such as how he got there and what that trip was like. And now it’s too late to ask.
I would love to be able ask my parents about what they did for fun, their first car, when they saw their first movie, their friends—even the tough times. It would be wonderful to go through all of the old black-and-white photos and ask for the stories behind each one.
Often a child’s interest in the past begins with a school project like Reece’s. Other times, however, something in the news, or perhaps their own interests or problems, will prompt a question.
Be ready for these questions. When one appears, stop, reflect on it thoughtfully, and then respond authentically from a viewpoint of sharing rather than teaching or influencing their thinking.
This is not a time for short answers!
I’m reminded of an e-mail that my daughter, Amy, sent me long ago. It was brief and to the point: “Dad, you need to share more.”
Ever since I received that note from Amy, I intentionally listen for opportunities to say more. For instance, one of the grandkids asked me about my new shotgun for pheasant hunting. So I told him about my relationship with my father, about my love of the outdoors, about our concern with having guns around the house. We probably talked for twenty minutes. That conversation reminded me that some conversations need us to focus on listening and others call for a focus on sharing.
Start a journal or collection of stories for later
We all have our own memories and stories that are prompted by familiar events of everyday life. Cindy and I were driving through a small town In Kansas, and as we passed a park, I was reminded of watching movies as a child on a big wooden board in the little city park where my grandparents lived. And that moment created a wonderful hour-long conversation about the small towns in each of our pasts.
Now that baseball season is upon us, I am reminded of Saturday afternoons of watching baseball on TV with my grandfather. The announcers were Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese, and Grandpa Pete had all kinds of superstitions. Never strike out the first batter because you’ll lose the game was one he truly believed in. He would go crazy if the Cardinal’s pitcher struck out the first batter. I’m sure the grandkids will love to hear about my grandfather.
The stories are there. The question is, Are you in touch with all the memories and stories from your past? If you are, you’ll find moments when they are wonderful additions to the conversations with family and friends.
Perhaps the most important reason of all for sharing our stories: Relationships are enhanced by having wonderful conversations about things that matter. People love stories, and when we share ours, we add depth to our relationships and broaden our points of connection.

Q&A with Rachel Macy Stafford – Part II

I’m delighted to return to the conversation with Rachel Macy Stafford, blogger and author of the book Hands Free Mama and the soon-to-be released Hands Free Life. Rachel talked about her first book in last week’s blog post, so now we’ll turn our attention to Hands Free Life, which will be released September 8.
Paul: Rachel, tell us what inspired you to write your newest book, Hands Free Life.
Rachel: During a late-night chat with my younger daughter when she was sick, Avery said something that moved me deeply. I’d just miscalculated my mother’s age, and my daughter lifted her hands in front of her face. She spread her small fingers as far as they could go and said, “I’m keeping track of life.”
It was such a beautiful term that became almost magical given the way she extended her two free hands. But what made the hairs stand straight up on my arms was the fact that I knew exactly what it meant. Keeping track of life is knowing you’re on your true path toward personal fulfillment. It’s being at peace with who you are and how you are living. It’s placing your head on the pillow at night knowing you’ve connected with someone or something that made your heart come alive. It’s investing in what really matters, understanding full well that managing life is the tendency, but living life is the goal.
What began as small steps to change my distracted, perfectionistic, and hurried existence (that I described in Hands Free Mama) grew into a transformed perspective—one that profoundly altered the way I made decisions, interacted with my loved ones, focused my attention, and spent the precious minutes and hours of my days. Intentional actions to grasp what really mattered evolved into living a life that really mattered. Living a Hands Free life is more profound than putting down the phone or burning the to-do list. It’s about deep, lasting, permanent change. In that moment with Avery, I knew I needed to share what I’d learned with the world.

Paul: Geoff Colvin advocates in his newest book, Humans Are Underrated, that empathy is the critical twenty-first-century skill. In your book, when you are describing your daughter’s ability to notice, it reminded me of raising kids with the ability to relate to others. Do you see the same connection? And how can we train our kids to notice or to be empathetic?
Rachel: Yes. I also see a connection between noticing and the ability to relate to others. That is one of the reasons why I believe we must be aware of our tech use. Our electronic devices severely impact our ability to notice the beauty around us, as well as notice human emotion and need. Our children’s tech use is likely to resemble our tech use—what we do with our device at the dinner table, while driving, or while in the company of others is likely what they will do. If we are not “noticing” the world around us, we are teaching our children not to notice either.
One of my most effective strategies for maintaining healthy boundaries between real life and technology is to envision what will make my children feel fulfilled in the future. And it comes down to this: If I want my children to appreciate the softness of a beautiful animal, I must take time to appreciate soft, cuddly creatures. If I want my children to look into the eyes of those who speak to them, I must look into my children’s eyes and listen to their words. If I want my children to extend a helping hand to someone in need, I must notice the needs of others and act upon my heart’s calling to help. I can’t expect the world to show my children that life is best lived with open hands, open eyes, and an open heart. It must come from me.
Lastly, I believe we must incorporate sacred pauses in our daily schedule so there is time to notice the everyday miracles around us. If we are constantly hurrying our children and ourselves through life, we miss the opportunity to notice what is most important. We limit our ability to see the emotions in the faces around us.
Paul: Like you, I’m an advocate of not only spending attentive, quality time with our children, but also of conversing with them in a way that shapes not only them but their view of the world. How have you found that language, words, and conversations shape our children?
Rachel: I’ve found that by commenting on a child’s positive actions, rather than what he or she is doing “wrong,” we can positively impact their life. This is the approach I used when I taught students with behavior disorders. These were children who came to my program after being kicked out of many classrooms and many schools. They came to me so hopeless and so down on themselves. I built them back up by seeing the good, any good, I could find. After all, they’d only heard the bad. I could only imagine what the little voice in their head sounded like, so I tried to create a new voice, a more positive one. Finding a positive with children who were so challenging was not always easy, but it was possible. I said things like:
“Wow! You made it from the pencil sharpener to your seat while keeping your hands to yourself! That is something to be proud of!”
“You wrote your name on your paper. Look how neatly you wrote the letter L! Take a moment and celebrate yourself!”
“You are here. I am so glad you made it school today!”
It was quite amazing how the children began speaking to themselves once the teachers in our classroom and I began pointing out every positive action rather than every negative. By the end of the year, these children were learning, growing, and cooperating in ways no one ever expected. I’ve been using this “Notice the Good” approach with my daughters and even myself and seeing promising results.

Paul: As I read your book, I found myself noting the phrases that you’ve used with your children—phrases that many parents might adapt and begin expressing to their children. For example, I love “I’m right here” as a way of comforting. I also like “No matter what happens, you can always come home.” What phrases or statements do you think might have the most impact on our children?
Rachel: When I began my Hands Free journey five years ago, I did it to free myself from the external distractions, internal pressures, and unrealistic societal standards that prevented me from truly living. But there was an unexpected result: As my distracted ways lessened, my loving ways increased—tenfold. For the first time in my life I saw a direct correlation between my undivided presence and my ability to love my people in ways that most nurtured them. When I was in their presence, I studied them. I listened to them. I watched their faces when I used certain words and tones. I noted what words brought sighs of relief … surges of confidence … and glows of acceptance. I vowed to say those words more. I also noted what words brought shame … disconnection … pain … and silence. I vowed to say those words less. Over time, I collected quite a powerful list of words that helped me love my people in ways that helped them thrive. Like sunlight and water to a plant, these words nourished the deepest parts of their human hearts and fostered growth in all areas of their lives. Hence, I called them Soul-Building Words:
You make my day better. 
You make my life better. 
I love spending time with you.  
Seeing your face makes me happy. 
I’m listening. 
This time is all yours. 
How can I be a better _____ (parent, friend, spouse) to you? 
Nothing is more important than being with you right now. 
How can I help? 
Take your time. You don’t have to rush.  
Keep going. You’ve got this. 
Be kind to yourself. You are doing the best you can.   
Mistakes mean you are bravely learning and growing. 
It may not be the outcome you hoped for, but I noticed your effort and it was quite remarkable. 
I believe in you.
Paul: Please tell us about the idea, connective silence.
Rachel: I first encountered “connective silence” on a vacation with my husband. I purposefully brought a small suitcase so I wouldn’t be weighed down with choices and excess. So I packed hats and headbands instead of curling irons and blow dyers. I packed blank notebooks and pencils instead of devices and calendars.
In those hours, sitting side by side in beach chairs, my husband and I shared moments of silence. And I called it “connective silence” because in those conversation lulls, I didn’t check out, reach for the phone, the TV remote, or a few pages of unfinished work. That’s when I realized that the greatest opportunity to connect to what really matters sometimes lies in the silent spaces of our day. If we can resist the urge to fill every minute with noise, excess, and activity, we open the doors of our heart, mind and soul to let the joy come in.
Paul: This is my favorite sentence in the book: Having a parent who listens creates a child who believes he or she has a voice in the world. Rachel, can you please expand on this?
Rachel: From first grade through my senior year in high school, I had afterschool chats with my dad at his campus office. I can’t remember a time when he said he couldn’t talk right now, even when he was working on his dissertation, dealing with challenging faculty issues, or facing budget cuts. When I spoke, my dad was all there.
My dad wasn’t perfect. He lost his temper sometimes. He worked too much. He experienced periods of depression. But even through the rough patches, my dad always listened to me. He was never too busy, too distracted, or too desolate to hear my thoughts and opinions. As a result, my dad gave me the confidence to speak up—to speak up in dangerous situations … to speak up for others … to speak up for myself. In situations that I could have suffered in silence, I didn’t. Why? Because my dad listened to me as I grew.
So despite what the critics say—that giving a child our undivided attention creates a child who thinks the world revolves around him or her—I believe otherwise: Having a parent that listens creates a child who believes he or she has a voice that matters in this world.
Rachel Macy Stafford is the founder of www.handsfreemama.com where she provides simple ways to let go of daily distraction and grasp what matters most in life. She is the New York Times bestselling author of Hands Free Mama. Her highly anticipated book, Hands Free Life, releases on September 8! It is a book about living life, not managing, stressing, screaming, or barely getting through life. Through truthful story-telling and life-giving Habit Builders, Rachel shows us how to respond to our loved ones and ourselves with more love, more presence, and more grace. Those who pre-order Hands Free Life from now until September 7 will receive the FREE e-book of Hands Free Mama. Click here to learn more about the book and pre-order bonus.

Keeping kids connected to college-bound siblings

Dear Paul: My mother has asked me to call my younger sister regularly from college. Emily isn’t very talkative, so I’m wondering if you have any advice about how to make this work. Thanks, Stephan
Dear Stephan,
It’s wonderful that you are open to this request from your mother. Many older brothers simply forget how much their younger siblings look up to them.
Given that relationships are, in essence, a series of conversations, it is important to be thoughtful about the best way to construct some of those conversations.
It’s also important to set up definite times to talk—and do everything you can not to miss a call.
Consider the following structure for your conversations with Emily:

The first week, you should share first for about 10 minutes. That is, imagine you are responding to this question from your sister: “Stephan, what did you do this week?” Tell her about what you accomplished, the fun you had, the things that didn’t go well, things you learned, things you found yourself worrying about. Just keep reflecting on your week and finding new things to share. Over time, you’ll find that you will want to keep notes about what happens throughout the week so you can remember them in your call.
Then ask your sister to tell you about her week. When she finishes one thought, just wait. If you feel compelled to say something, try “What else?” When appropriate, make short declarations to let her know you are following the conversation. Try: “Cool,” “OK,” “Got it,” “Good…” But mostly just listen and wait. One watch out—don’t jump in with advice about what she should do unless she specifically asks for it. When people are sharing, the value is in the sharing. This is not about problem solving or looking for help. This is just talking with your sister.
At the end of the conversation, thank her for talking with you and tell her a couple of things you got out of or liked about the conversation. Perhaps, “I appreciated that you told me about….” or “I never thought about that before—that’s cool.” This lets her know that you valued the conversation and what she said. Very important.

Then the next week you can ask her to go first. Sometimes, going first gets the conversation started and helps the other person know how to respond.
Since Emily loves to listen, she will likely be slower to begin to speak. By taking the lead for a while, you help her get an understanding of what kinds of things she might talk about. With her, you are going to have to be more direct, such as “Emily, it’s your turn. I want to hear about your week, too.” Then learn to tolerate the pauses in the conversation. In life, you’ve got to learn to be willing to wait longer than the other person.
Again, let her know at the end of each conversation that you appreciate talking with her. And send her a text the next day thanking her again!
Good luck, and thank your for your question.

As a parent, how easy are you to talk to?

When Amy was small, she frequently lied to me, which was upsetting and left me bewildered. Then, after spending a weekend with our family, a friend commented as she was leaving, “Paul, I think Amy is scared of you.” Wow. That thought had never crossed my mind, but upon reflection, I could understand it.
So, I did a number of things:

I told Amy she would never get in trouble if she told me the truth. 
I stopped reprimanding her when I was upset and waited until my tone of voice could be supportive.
I found ways to spend three to four more hours a week with her just being together.

Interestingly, the lying disappeared. Amy was simply reacting to a Dad who was scary at times. Stop being scary, the lying disappears.
Linguistics scholar Deborah Tannen says that you are either creating relationship or controlling someone with how you are in a conversation. Now, I agree that this is a simplistic, either/or, way of looking at conversations. Yet sometimes the simple ideas are the most profound.
Here are some other quick ways of assessing your conversations:

you are either easy to speak with or in some way threatening. 
you are either creating possibility or eliminating possibility. 
you are either providing room for your children to push back on your conversation or leaving no room or safety for them to do so. 
you are either indicating to your kids that you are interested in their views or you are not.
your kids either look forward to speaking with you or they don’t.

Think back on this week’s conversations with your kids. What were you creating with what you said? How did your words or tone affect how your child might respond?
Remember—you matter to your kids, and therefore what you say has an impact on them. If you remember this, you’ll be more aware of what you say and how you say it.
One last thought: Maybe it’s all reaction—and if we change how we approach our kids, they will react to us in a different way. 
Thanks for reading. I hope these periodic blogs are keeping the ideas in the book alive for you. 

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