Parenting

The Perils of Praise

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What’s your reaction if I tell you that you are the sweetest, finest, brightest, most talented and beautiful person I have ever known?

You will probably have several reactions:

1. It’s nice to be appreciated. It feels good.

2. I’m not sure you know me very well. Or you don’t know the real me. I have lots of faults and limitations.

3. I’ll be a little anxious when I’m around you for fear you will find evidence that your high appraisal of me was mistaken. Or I will choose easy tasks so I can appear to be successful.

This last reaction is just what Carol Dweck found in her research with children. When we tell kids how amazing they are, we make them uncomfortable. They don’t want to appear as failures so, in the future, they choose easier tasks. Praise can be disabling.

This discovery fits well with the gospel. When Jesus commanded us not to judge, He did not say, “Do not judge negatively.” He said, “Do not judge.” Apparently it can be damaging to hang heavy labels on people—either positive or negative ones.

But here is the key point: Positivity is extremely important! It is vital for feeling valued. It is wonderfully encouraging and motivating. But we can encourage people without hanging heavy labels on them. What should we do instead of praising and judging them?

1. We can describe our reaction to them. “I love your laughter.” “I am amazed at the way you concentrate.” “It is a joy to be with you.”

2. We can describe our reaction to their doings. “Your picture made me feel the warmth of the sun.” “Your story made your characters so real!” “I can’t believe that you could get your room so organized!”

As the brilliant psychologist Haim Ginott observed, our words should “deal only with children’s efforts and accomplishments, not with their character and personality” (2003, p. 32).

I want to be balanced in discussing the problems of praise. Every child will survive an enthusiastic aunt or grandpa gushing: “You are the sweetest thing on the planet! You are the best!” In fact we are all glad for such an explosion of appreciation from people in our lives. Positivity is absolutely vital for all of us. It is only as we feel the burden of unrealistic expectations that positivity becomes immobilizing. It is better to appreciate effort than evaluate character.

So show appreciation and affection to the children in your life. Children need a steady stream of encouragement. But try to describe your reaction to their efforts rather than hang a heavy label on them.

Invitation:
For most of us the challenge is that we correct our children too much. We may not be consistently positive and encouraging. Watch your children—especially the child who is difficult—and look for opportunities to be more positive. Make special efforts to notice and appreciate their efforts.

Recommendations:
Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child is the classic parenting book. [Disclosure: I helped revise the original book to create the new edition.] Many agree; this is one of the most important books ever written on understanding the emotional world of children. I think it is the best parenting book in print.
If you want to know more about Carol Dweck’s research, her book, Mindset, is a readable and sensible book.

Self Development

Who Deserves Our Compassion?

A good friend called to talk about a difficult uncle. He is distant and prickly. She is tired of trying to be nice to him when he shows only rudeness to her. I suggested that she try to understand his struggles and pains. She commented that he doesn’t deserve her compassion.

Deserve her compassion? It struck me instinctively that the proper question is never one of deservingness. None of us deserves compassion. We are all narrow and selfish. We all deserve condemnation.

Yet “if we demand an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, we will all soon be blind and toothless” (variously attributed).

We humans expect mercy and compassion for our misdeeds while offering justice and retribution to others for their misdeeds. We cluck at those who text while driving. But, when we text (or check movie schedules, or read emails) while driving, it is only for truly vital matters.

We resent any snubs from the people around us. Yet we ourselves sniff at or ignore unnumbered people every day.

We all know this is wrong but it is so common that our offences become like Muzak at the mall; we hardly notice. We become Pharisees humming Come, Come Ye Saints.

Occasionally our consciences tweak us. We feel the discomfort of acting at odds with our values. And we make a choice. We set aside conscience or we embrace it.

Let’s imagine we embrace conscience. For the woman dealing with a difficult uncle, it may be impossible to go directly from pain to compassion. She may need first to feel God’s compassion for her. He grieves at her suffering. He feels her pain personally and profoundly. When we allow ourselves to be filled with His compassion, it becomes possible for us to show compassion. When we have a vibrant, loving relationship with Him, it becomes possible to be His messengers.

How do we get there? What if we feel like spiritual failures? What if we can’t seem to find His love despite a lifetime of trying?

I don’t have any easy answer to those questions. In my case, Heavenly Father tricked me. He showed me how much He loved His most broken and desperate children. As I witnessed His love for them, I finally stopped resisting His love for me. I finally sang the song of redeeming love in a personal way.

I don’t know how He will reach you. But I am sure it is always good for us to drop our defenses against Him. It is good to beg for an outpouring of His love. I cannot say what your path will be but I know that He is anxious to fill you, to bless you, to love you, to heal you, and to partner with you.

If God weeps with the suffering of His wicked children (Moses 7), He certainly grieves over our struggles. Feeling His compassion and devotion prepares us to act like Him—offering compassion to our fellow travelers.

Because we are in a fallen world, we are all injured, broken, damaged, and fragmented. Rather than scoff at each other’s injuries, we can be kind; After all, “everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” We can offer a crust of bread and a kind word to every person we meet. We can work to notice each person God places in our paths.

When we are filled with the love of God, we can turn toward people with warm and loving curiosity: What unique gift has God given this person? What can I learn from this child of God? What might God call me to do for this person?

The surest way to draw heaven into our lives is to show compassion—undeserved compassion. “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:38).

I love Joni Hilton’s invitation: “Next time you’re in line at the market, or pumping gas, or in the workplace, notice the people around you and the quick conclusions you’re tempted to draw. Catch yourself judging unfairly and rewind the tape. Instead, see this person as a child of God who is loved and hoped for. Know that a Patriarchal Blessing awaits this person. Realize they cheered in the Pre-mortal World when they heard the Plan of Happiness. Ask a silent prayer to see if your path was meant to cross theirs today, to help them and bring them the truth” (Joni Hilton, Meridian Magazine, Are You More Judgmental than You Think? http://www.ldsmag.com/article/1/12281)

It feels good to show love.

Invitation:

Ask Heavenly Father for the gift to really see people—especially to see them as He sees them. Pause to offer compassion, to pray for them, to appreciate them. If appropriate, ask them about themselves. Enter their worlds with interest and compassion. Express appreciation. Pray for them.

Recommendations:

I recommend that everyone read Stephen Robinson’s Believing Christ.

Uncategorized

Discoveries: Essential Truths for Relationships Making Each Other Crazy

Top view of different tapas food recipes. Delicious table of foods.

People are as different as foods on a buffet. For example, I am an extrovert. I do my thinking on the outside. I think out loud. Nancy is an introvert. She likes to think before she talks (in spite of my consistent example to the contrary).

Sometimes it makes me crazy when I ask Nancy a question and she goes into a trance. I want to know what she’s thinking; I want to participate in the process. She, however, likes to mull ideas over before she offers a considered opinion—after several minutes. In the meantime, I tap my toe impatiently.

Of course, I have a talent for making her crazy (thankfully she is amazingly patient and forgiving!). When I am playing with an idea, I talk about it from different angles. Each time I talk about it, I make small refinements. But, to the untrained ear, it sounds like I’m saying the same thing over and over. It could make anyone crazy!

That is an enduring difference between us. Unfortunately there have been times when I have gotten impatient and pushed her to talk. I’m sure there are times when she wondered if I would quit talking.

Differences can irritate and grow. They can become defining issues. After all, the natural man is an enemy to his spouse. And always has been. And always will be.

There simply is no hope we will get along unless we can change the way we feel about our differences—“unless [we] yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 3:19). Even then we will still be different. But the differences won’t bother us like they do when our fallenness is talking.

Daniel B. Wile, the insightful marriage therapist, observed:

There is value, when choosing a long-term partner, in realizing that you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unresolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty, or fifty years. (p. 13, After the Honeymoon)

Wile notes that we can get disgusted and leave our marriages. We can find new partners. And it will take a few years before we discover our unresolvable differences with our new partners. At that point we can leave those marriages and find new partners again. And thus we have the great American marriage pattern, serial monogamy. We stay frustrated and keep looking for the partner who is the perfect match, the one who completes us.

Or we can subscribe to God’s purposes in marriage. We can turn our discontents into humility and openness. We can try to understand and appreciate someone else’s perspective. We can seek to learn from each other.

If you have been paying attention, you have discovered the unresolvable differences in your relationship. You may have also discovered that they are not resolved as the result of candid discussion. Nope. Often they get worse. We get entrenched in our way of thinking and feeling.

There really is only one solution: heart-changing humility. When we become truly humble, we seek to understand our partners. We appreciate their uniqueness. We adapt to their ways. We even learn to appreciate them.

After all, God does not intend that we spend our lives coasting along in easy happiness. He intends to provoke us toward charity. Sure, God intends that we have times of peace and contentment. He also intends that we ascend the mountains of godliness. That will require real climbing—spiritual transformation. We “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love . . . that we may be purified even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:47).

Of course we must cooperate with God. When we feel ourselves getting irritated we must do more than wait for Him to patch our souls. We must actively call on Him as Alma did: “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.”

Will the differences go away? Nope. God wants us to get disgusted enough with our grumbling and complaining that we beg Him for the mighty change that brings us charity.

The leading relationship scholar, John Gottman, has recommended that we start a dialogue with our unresolvable differences. Whether our differences are about relatives, money, sexuality, housework, or parenting, we can set aside our demands and seek to truly understand what matters to our partners.

We can stop thinking of differences as problems to be fixed and embrace them as opportunities for appreciation. We can stop holding up our own preferences as the standard of rightness. We can become “as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19).

As we learn to appreciate our differences, we become more like our perfect Father.

Invitation:

Think about the things that irritate you most often in your marriage. How would you feel about those things if/when you were filled with the Spirit of God? How can you turn irritations into appreciations?

Recommendations:

For more about coping with our differences, read Gottman’s The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work.

For more about cultivating charity in marriage, read my Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.

Parenting

Crazy About You!

When 3 year-old Ian comes to visit his adoring Papa, we fall easily and naturally into joyous companionship. We play with wind-up toys. We “cook” meals with play dough. We pop popcorn and watch Robots yet again. Loving him is easy.

But what about the child who is harder—who is too loud, too negative, too demanding, or too hyper—the child who grates on our nerves? How in the world do parents get a loving perspective on difficult children?

That is where God invites us to grow. As I regularly say, irritation is an invitation. We can stay stuck in our this-child-is-a-mess view or we can choose to open our hearts to the child. We can see all the muck in a fallen child or we can see the glory just barely concealed by mortality. We can see past dirty hands and abundant mistakes to see one of God’s cherished children who comes trailing clouds of glory, who will learn and grow, will face discouragement and pain but will choose God and goodness. We can shout for him to stay out of the cookies or we can provide a glass of milk. We can see her grumpiness or recognize the difficulties of being a child.

A brilliant psychologist, Urie Bronfenbrenner, taught: “Every child should spend a substantial amount of time with somebody who’s crazy about him or her. There has to be at least one person who has an irrational involvement with that child, someone who thinks that kid is more important than other people’s kids, someone who’s in love with him or her and whom he or she loves in return.”

Research is clear: The single most important factor in the way a child develops is nurturance. Does each child feel loved, valued, cherished, and supported? Nothing matters more for healthy development.

But how do we change from irritation to appreciation? The answer is surprisingly simple: we can choose to see with compassion.

We all make sense of what we see. And, quite unnoticed by us, we all have default settings for our evaluation switches. We stand ready to be irritated by certain behaviors or certain personalities. But we can throw those switches from irritation toward appreciation. When a child splashes in mud, we can interpret it as stubborn disobedience or joyous exploration. When a teen asks a prickly question we can see impertinence or exploration. We can focus on the inexperience and fallenness or on the goodness and earnestness.

When little Vivi scribbled in my scriptures, the natural man wanted to slap her hand. But we love Vivi! So, when she finished her creation, I put a small notation at the bottom of the page acknowledging the artist and noting the date.

I must confess. I continue to pray for an outpouring of charity toward some children. Some children and some actions are especially difficult for each of us. They challenge us to think differently.

It will be much easier for us to offer the loving view to our children if we grew up feeling understood and cherished. Unfortunately most of us did not get nearly enough love. There is one great remedy: We can let the immense and perfect love of God heal our wounds and fill our empty places. When we are filled with God’s love, it is natural for us to be patient and loving with our children.

Just gritting our teeth with the child who irritates us will never lead to effective parenting. We need an outpouring of the heavenly gift: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:48).

But the gift of charity is not simply imposed on us by heaven. We must cooperate. We must work with all the energy of our souls to see the goodness that God sees. We must give children the benefit of the doubt. We must be willing to understand their world and their needs. We must spend time building a relationship with them. We may need to lovingly counsel with them about how they can best manage their strengths.

In addition to loving wholeheartedly, a good parent must also set limits and impose consequences. But when these are done by a parent who is striving to parent with unstinting love, the result will be gloriously redemptive.

Invitation:

Notice irritation. As it arises with a specific child, ask God how you can build a positive relationship with that child. Based on His direction, make deliberate efforts to build a connection and strengthen the relationship.

Recommendations:

I wrote Bringing Up Our Children in Light and Truth to provide a gospel overview of parenting. You will find balanced answers for the challenges of parenting in that book.

Marriage

The Blessings of Sacrifice in Family Life

I love cheese. Big piles of melted cheese. Cheese enchiladas. Covered nachos. Omelets oozing cheese. Almost any form of cheddar. But my affection is unrequited. Cheese is not good for me.

Most the time I avoid cheese because of what it costs me. I feel much better when I do. So, is it a sacrifice for me to give up cheese? Yes and no. It may seem painful to choose a chicken tostada at El Sol rather than the cheese enchilada special. But it saves me days of suffering.

When in a gracious mood, many of us gladly make adjustments for the people we love. But family life inevitably entails sacrifices that are hard to make. We lose sleep to care for a sick one. We attend school programs that we would never attend without coercion. We get irritated with our spouse’s decisions. There are so many preferences we forfeit in service of family life. We are tempted to become resentful that we surrender so much for our families.

Brigham Young gave us a fresh perspective on sacrifice:

I have heard a great many tell about what they have suffered for Christ’s sake. I am happy to say I never had occasion to. I have enjoyed a great deal, but so far as suffering goes I have compared it a great many times . . . to a man wearing an old, worn out, tattered and dirty coat, and somebody comes along and gives him one that is new, whole and beautiful. This is the comparison I draw when I think of what I have suffered for the Gospel’s sake—I have thrown away an old coat and have put on a new one. No man or woman ever heard me tell about suffering. “Did you not leave a handsome property in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois?” Yes. “And have you not suffered through that?” No, I have been growing better and better all the time, and so have this people. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 348)

Maybe the difference between purposeful, meaningful sacrifice and begrudging and constrained sacrifice is some combination of love and faith. Do we (to paraphrase Fosdick) face suffering hopefully as a school of moral growth in a world presided over by a Father, or grimly as a hardship in which there is no meaning? (See Meaning of Faith, 1918, p. 24)

I suspect that God’s commandments are a little like my avoiding cheese. Commandments seem to deny us many forms of satisfaction. They seem costly. But they are really God’s guides to greater peace and well-being. They are not arbitrary tests of our obedience. They are wise counsel from the one Person who is most committed to our happiness. He knows the surest path to joy and He is giving us universal and specific counsel to get us there.

When we see our sacrifices as a necessary part of our moral education sent by a perfect Teacher, we welcome them.

Nancy is the kindest, finest person I know. Yet there is inevitable sacrifice and adjustment in sharing life—even with a saint. I sometimes chafe because Nancy didn’t wash the dishes the right way, or because she is flummoxed by her phone, or because she wants me to eat vegetables. But God did not create Nancy as a convenience for me. He created her as a miraculous expression of Himself. My calling is to cherish her, show compassion for her, learn from her, and be changed by her.

Can our sacrifices for our families sanctify our souls? Is it possible that we cannot become good people without making the sacrifice of our petty preferences?

Dennis B. Neuenschwander taught: “One may not have the sacred without first sacrificing something for it. There can be no sacredness without personal sacrifice” (Holy Place, Sacred Space, April 2003).

Remember that Adam and Eve offered precious sacrifices to the Lord without understanding their purpose (Moses 5:6). When the angel asked why they would risk starvation to make such sacrifices, Adam’s reply was simple: “I know not, save the Lord commanded me.”

After Adam affirmed his commitment to making the required sacrifices, the angel taught him:

“This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth. Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.”

That is good counsel for family relationships. When we make our puny sacrifices for each other, we may come to understand the One who has sacrificed infinitely for us. As we understand His great love and commitment, we are more likely to do everything we do in His name, to repent gladly, and to love redemptively.

Sacrifice can sanctify us and our relationships. “May we ever choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong” (Thomas S. Monson).

Invitation:

What sacrifice are you holding back from your family? What specifically do you feel called to do differently? Forego the caustic remark? Apologize? Jump in to help with disagreeable tasks? Make a gift of that “sacrifice.”

Recommendations:

For more ideas about sacrifice in healthy relationships, read Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.

Marriage

The Importance of Service and Sacrifice

Here’s a great idea …

In his book, The Heart of Commitment, Scott Stanley says, “Sacrifice [and service are] the highest expressions of dedicated, loving action because it asks you to show by your actions that you really mean it when you say you are committed.” (p. 193)

In other words …

The old saying “actions speak louder than words” is especially true when it comes to our relationships. Our words of love and commitment mean little if our partners don’t feel they are sincere. Acts of service are one of the best ways we can show our sincerity. By putting our partner’s needs and wants in front of our own, we can show them how much they matter to us.

Here’s how you can use this idea to have a better life …

This week, actively look for ways to serve your partner. Maybe you can do a chore that is normally their responsibility.

To find out more…

about couple relationships, check out The Marriage Garden program at arfamilies.org, follow us at facebook.com/navigatinglife or contact your local county Extension agent. You can also read Stanley’s The Heart of Commitment.

Marriage

How Can I Get My Partner to Change?

Here’s a great idea …

In her book, Why Talking is Not Enough, Susan Page says, “Of course, most of us want certain changes in our partners. The way to create these changes is to begin with what is actually the case and to accept it. Change happens when you stop trying to control everything yourself.” (p. 167)

In other words …

Sometimes we think our partners would be better human beings if we could only get them to change in this way or that. We then spend countless hours working on our latest “spousal improvement” projects. Then we are frustrated when things don’t turn out as we had envisioned them. Trying to get our partners to change in order to make us happy rarely ever works. While the need for our partners to change may be genuine, they will probably be unwilling to do so until they know that they are loved and accepted exactly as they are.

Here’s how you can use this idea to have a better life …

Let go of those endless pursuits to change your partner. The only person you can change is yourself. The next time you are tempted to try and change your partner, try instead to change the way you are seeing him or her. Some of the things that bug you about your partner might actually be his or her greatest strengths. Rather than looking for and dwelling on irritations, look for the good in your partner. Your positivity may transform your relationship.

To find out more…

about couple relationships, check out The Marriage Garden program at arfamilies.org, follow us at facebook.com/navigatinglife or contact your local county Extension agent. You can also read Why Talking is Not Enough.

Self Development

What Beauty Have You Experienced Today?

Here’s a great idea …

In their publication, The Personal Journey, Wally Goddard and James Marshall say, “In the hike of life, we can focus on the obstacles along the trail or the beauty that surrounds us. Those who find beauty in daily life travel well.”

In other words …

Our lives will always be filled with both blessing and challenges. If we choose to focus on the challenges, it is easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged, but if instead we focus on the blessings and beauty our lives can be filled with joy and optimism.

Here’s how you can use this idea to have a better life …

What beauty or good can you find in your life? What do you have to be grateful for? Try writing down one or two things for which you are grateful each day. The more you look for the good in your life, the more happiness you will find.

To find out more …

about personal well-being, check out The Personal Journey or Managing Stress programs at arfamilies.org, follow us at facebook.com/navigatinglife contact your local county Extension agent.

Parenting

Don’t Discount Your Children’s Feelings

Here’s a great idea …

In his book, Between Parent and Child, Haim Ginott says, “Most discipline problems consist of two parts: angry feelings and angry acts. Each part has to be handled differently. Feelings have to be identified and processed; acts may have to be limited and directed.” (p. 118)

In other words …

Sometimes as parents we try to put restrictions on what our children feel. All children are bound to feel frustrated and angry from time to time. We should not try to discount or squash these feelings. Instead, we should try to help our children find appropriate ways to deal with and express these feelings. In some cases, simply talking through what they are feeling may be enough. Other times we may need to help them find appropriate ways to act out their feelings, such as drawing a picture or running around the house.

How you can use this idea to have a better life …

The next time your child is upset, talk with them and help them process and identify their emotions. Then work with your child to come up with acceptable ways to release their emotional energy.

To find out more …

about parenting, check out The Parenting Journey or See the World Through My Eyes programs at arfamilies.org, follow us at facebook.com/navigatinglife or contact your local county Extension agent. You can also read Between Parent and Child.

Uncategorized

Guide Children By Listening to Them

Here’s a great idea …

In his book, The Whole Child, Seamus Carey says, “The emotions and feelings that children experience are often far more complex than their ability to articulate them. They often get frustrated trying to express their emotions and feelings, because words often fail to convey the depth of emotional experience. Parents effectively guide children beyond their frustration by listening for at least one idea that can help the child to articulate clearly.” (p. 72)

In other words …

Children sometimes have difficulty dealing with their emotions, especially when they feel that they are not being heard or understood by those around them. As parents, we can help our children the most by inviting them to share and talk openly with us about their feelings. We can help them build an emotional vocabulary and be better equipped to deal with their feelings.

How you can use this idea to have a better life …

The next time your child is trying to express an emotion take time to listen to what they have to say. Help them elaborate on their feelings and teach them new words to describe what they feel. The more you talk with your child about what they are feeling, the more understood they will feel and the more comfortable they will be sharing their emotions with you in the future.

To find out more …

about parenting, check out The Parenting Journey or See the World Through My Eyes programs at arfamilies.org, follow us at facebook.com/navigatinglife or contact your local county Extension agent. You can also read Carey’s The Whole Child.