Break Time’s Over

Let’s start with the most important thing: Today is launch day for my book, Dealing with the Elephant in the Room: Moving from Tough Conversations to Healthy Communication.

Today would be a great day to pick it up.

Or not.

The reason to get it today is that a strong launch gives a book more quick exposure, which builds momentum. If it’s a helpful book, it’s a chance to get it into more hands so it can help more people.

So, it would be great if you could:

  • Pick up a copy or three on Amazon or your favorite online retail outlet.
  • Share this post with your “tribe” through your social media accounts, and encourage others to do the same.

There is one reason, though, why you might want to pass it up:

You might already have it.

Here’s the scoop:

A couple of years ago, Revell published my book You Can’t Text a Tough Conversation: RealCommunicationNeeded.
It was a book about learning to communicate effectively when conversations get challenging and uncomfortable. But people read the title and thought it was a book about the evils of social media, and how it messes with our relationships.  Even the media interviews I did focused on technology, not communication.

People agreed strongly with that idea, but they didn’t need a book to tell them.

So they said nice things about it, but didn’t buy it.

I approached my publisher and asked if we could make a change in the packaging so it would be more accurate. They had already been thinking that direction, so they agreed.

The result? The book that’s launching today – Dealing with the Elephant in the Room: Moving from Tough Conversations to Healthy CommunicationIt’s a revised version of that original book. So if you bought that one, you might not need to get this new one (though it’s a little different).

But you can still spread the word . . . which I would deeply appreciate.

I just read through the book again. It’s been awhile, so I wanted to see what I said.

Here’s the interesting thing I discovered: It’s a really good book. In fact, I think it might be the most helpful book I’ve written.  When the focus was on technology, it was an OK book.  But now that the focus is on communication, it was a surprisingly helpful read.

If you’re challenged by tough, uncomfortable conversations, I think you’ll find some real help here. It’s full of practical tips and advice of what’s needed to build your conversational toolbox, and how to use those tools effectively.

Know someone who’s struggling in a relationship? This could make the difference for them.  It’s simple, it’s practical, and it’s proven.  It’s not stuffy (as evidenced by the cover).

So, this isn’t just about making a book successful (though that’s part of it). It’s about getting a tool in the hands of people who are stuck in their relationships.

——————–

That leads to the second part. I’ve been “on recess” for the most part over the past year.  There has been a lot going on – from job changes to multiple surgeries and a few other things that make life interesting.  So I’ve really missed connecting with you in this way.

But it’s time to come back.

There’s a new website coming in a few weeks (I actually hired an expert). It’ll be our “coffee shop” where we can connect about life.  I’ll be your barista, and you can drop in anytime.  I’m looking forward to that.

I’m also jumping back into this blog again. So, you can expect to hear something about once a week.  (If you’d like to receive these posts automatically, sign up at the top of this page.)  You’re going to help pick the topics.  It’s a dialogue, not a monologue.

And I’m working on the next book proposal. You’ll be part of the writing process on this one.

I also stuck my toes in the Instagram pool today. If you’re on there as well, we can go exploring together.

This “season” has helped me see how much I enjoy writing and connecting. So I’m looking forward to having you along on the journey. It’s a privilege, and I’m grateful that you’re along for the ride.

Now – go spread the word about elephants . . . and we’ll talk again next week!

Don’t Let Your Crazy Person Ruin Your Holidays

Who irritates you the most?

Don’t overthink this . . . but who’s the first person that pops onto your radar that makes you frown instead of smile? I’m not thinking of public figures or politicians that drive you crazy (that’s another blog post). This is someone you know personally:

  • An overbearing friend.
  • An extended family member that you’ll see at a holiday meal.
  • A boss or co-worker that drains the energy out of you.
  • Your teenager who seems to be in the “pre-people” stage of development.
  • Your spouse – who changed since your married them.

Got them in mind?

OK – how do you feel when you think about them? If it’s negative, you might have given them control over your emotions. They can’t ruin your life unless you let them.

We have the ability to choose our how we respond in any situation. It just seems tougher when we see them often, like barnacles attached to the hull of an ocean liner.  We feel like there’s no escape from their craziness.

So how can you begin taking control? Here’s one simple place to start, and you can do it today:

  1. Write down the five things that bug you most about them. Seriously – write them down.
  2. Ask yourself if you can change those things. Probably not. It’s hard enough to change ourselves, much less someone else.
  3. Now write down five strengths that person has – things you’d be grateful for if the negatives weren’t there.

Those things that irritate us might be accurate. But focusing only on those things gives us a lopsided view of another person.

The best people have faults, and the worst people have strengths.

We need to see both.

stainsFocusing on the negatives is like seeing dark stains on a white sheet. When we focus on the stains, we don’t even notice the rest of the sheet.  The stains are real, but so is the sheet.

I’m not suggesting that we ignore the negatives.

But they lose some of their power when we see the whole person, not just their issues.

Will this solve the problem? Probably not.  But it can give us perspective.

Try it before they show up during holiday celebrations.

You might just feel a little more in control – and you won’t have someone else ruin your holidays.

 

How do you keep your sanity when others try to steal it from you?  Share below in comments . . .

For Women Only . . .

"I Wish He Had Come with Instructions"

Over the years, we’ve bought a lot of do-it-yourself furniture. It’s become a familiar process:

  • Open the box
  • Look for the instructions
  • Lay out all the pieces
  • Try to follow the instructions
  • Get frustrated
  • Eat cookies

The instructions read as though they were written by someone who had never seen the actual pieces. Their “step-by-step” process becomes more like “stop-by-stop.”  We think, If I stay focused, I’ll figure it out.

But it doesn’t happen.

Women – does it ever feel like the same thing is true of men? You find one you like, and the picture on the box looks promising.  But when you look inside, there are no instructions.

“That’s OK,” you think. “He comes preassembled.” You won’t need to figure out how to put the pieces together.

But it’s not just the instruction manual that’s missing. There’s also no operation manual to describe how he works:

  • You can’t find the power button.
  • He turns on all by himself at random times and turns off suddenly when you least expect it.
  • He usually seems to work OK, but there seems to be no way to control him.

Most of the time he does what you expect him to do. But there are those unexpected times when he doesn’t cooperate.  You think he’ll help with the housework, but instead he plops down on a couch and plows through a bag of Cheetos while watching people run around a field on a big screen.

That’s when you notice the warning labels on the box that you overlooked:

  • “Fragile” (he needs an ego boost to keep functioning)
  • “This end up” (if he gets upset, he doesn’t work right)
  • “Batteries not included” (he runs out of energy at the worst times)

So, what do you do when there’s no operation manual? You end up writing your own.

Most women have experienced something similar with the men in their lives. So they talk to each other, trying to figure out what their men are thinking. But without knowing exactly what’s going on in a man’s mind, it becomes an exercise in futility.  They write their own operation manual from their own female frame of reference.  It’s what they know.

That can be dangerous, because those male differences can be seen as problems to solve. I’ve seen a number of books that focus on two approaches:

  1. Fixing those differences
  2. Coping with those differences

Both of those can be unhealthy.  They ignore the fact that differences are essential for a relationship to grow and thrive.  That’s the third option:

Embrace the differences.

When I was getting ready to write my latest book, “I Wish He Had Come With Instructions: A Woman’s Guide to a Man’s Brain,” I went to the bookstore to see what had already been written.  I found two categories:

  • Books written by women about how men think
  • Books written by men giving advice to women

I decided to fill the obvious gap – a book about a man’s brain, written by someone who’s lived in there for a long time.

My wife, Diane started me in the right direction. “There are too many books written by men telling women what to do,” she said.  “Men don’t know how women think, either – so they shouldn’t be giving them advice like that.”

Bechtle_Instructions.inddSo, in this new book, I’ve chosen to simply be a tour guide. I’ll take you on a journey of a man’s brain so you know what’s going on.  I won’t tell you what to do.  I’ll just show you the scenic lookouts and the switchbacks on the trail and the toxic waste spots to avoid.  I’ll just walk with you on the journey.

It’s an understanding manual, not an instruction manual.

It was a fun book to write – and I think it might be my favorite. It’s gotten some great reviews already, and I’ve had some pretty energetic media response during interviews.

Now, it’s your chance to find out for yourself . . . and I’d love your help getting the word out, so others can benefit.

The book launched this week. The first couple of weeks is important for the success of a book, because it shows how much interest there is in the book.  The more “buzz” that takes place initially, the better the chance of it taking off.

Since you’re the people that have allowed me to have good conversations with you every week or so, I’d like to ask your help. Here are some things you can do as part of my “team:”

  • Buy a copy for yourself (you can purchase or download it here), and maybe an additional one for a friend.
  • Rank it with “stars” on Amazon. (Yeah, I look at those, too when I’m buying things.) Add a short review if you’re so inclined. That also applies to Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc.
  • Let people on Facebook, Twitter, etc. know that you’re reading it. Add a cat video to capture their attention.
  • Share this blog post with others and invite them to join our discussions.
  • If you have a blog, post something about it there. If you use guest posts or author interviews, I’d be happy to drop by. If you do book reviews, I’ll get you a copy to give away. We’re in this writing thing together, and I’d love to help you out.
  • Donate a copy to your church or public library. Or put it in your dentist’s office so people have an alternative from reading a copy of Reader’s Digest from 2006.

Let me know your thoughts as you read. I’d love to hear your input, especially how it helps you understand the men in your life.

And if your man reads it, that’s OK. It could make for some interesting discussions!

Thanks – just know how much I appreciate the chance to connect through this blog every couple of weeks. Soon, you’ll see a new website and a new approach – so stay tuned!

Reviewing Your Family on Yelp

1“I’ve been a regular for a number of years with John. In those early years, he met all my expectations of a husband.  But my recent experiences have caused me to lower my ratings, because his customer service seems to have disappeared.  I married him because he was the strong, silent type; now, he never talks to me.  I admired his strong convictions about the things that bugged him in society; now he just complains about the things that bug him about me.  Unfortunately, I can no longer recommend him as a husband.”

2“You would think that after 3 years, a person would learn from their mistakes and correct them. But Tommy still seems more committed to his own interests than the happiness of others.  His performance as a toddler is consistently declining, his social skills have become self-centered, and he has little commitment to our family structure.  It’s sad to watch 5-star potential disintegrate to a 2-star review.  We’ll keep him for now, but we’re disappointed.”

3“Uncle Joe? He’s crazy. But we made it through the last holiday without him causing a scene.  That’s a miracle – and it might have been a fluke – but it’s enough to add a couple of stars to his rating.”

People go to Yelp to see what other people think about restaurants and services. If the reviews are good, they might consider using that service.  If the reviews are bad, they avoid it.

We all have our “default” restaurant – the one we keep going to when we can’t decide where else to go. It’s familiar, it’s comfortable, and it’s safe.  Maybe it’s not the greatest food in the world, but it’s pretty consistent.

Some days the food might be a little off or the service a little shaky. But we know the place well enough to realize that it’s just a bad day for them, and it’ll be better next time.

But if someone makes a first-time visit on that bad day, they’re incensed. They demand free food, won’t pay the bill and write a scathing review on Yelp as soon as they get to their car.  They want to punish the restaurant and protect others from the same fate.

Yelp familyWhat if there was a “people” category on Yelp, where we could critique our family and friends?

What would we write?

Would it reflect the realities of long-term commitment?

Or would it be an impulsive reaction to a frustrating conversation?

When we talk to others about our spouse, kids or relatives, it’s like a Yelp review. What we say shapes their opinion of that person.

It’s easy to share our family frustrations with others, hoping they’ll reinforce our position. But it’s not fair to the family member, because it only gives our perspective.

I’m wondering if there’s a guiding principle that applies here, whether it’s a restaurant or a relative:

  • If our review is positive, we should tell the person (so they get the encouragement) – and also tell others.
  • If our review is negative, we should talk to the person about it – and nobody else.

Thoughts?

 

 

The Kid Whisperer

We babysat our grandkids last night. It’s one of our favorite things to do, because we get to spend time with little people that we adore.

Usually it’s fun and games. But sometimes issues that come up requiring discipline.

And I’m always amazed that I rarely know what to do.

I’ve been a parent for 35 years, a spouse for 38 and a grandparent for almost 10. I’ve written three books on communication, and have two more on the way. I should have this figured out. But more often than not, I don’t have a clue.

It was a little thing last night. The youngest grabbed a paper that was important to the oldest. A tug-of-war started over it. I told him to let go. He didn’t and the paper ripped.

I thought, “OK, what do I do?” I helped the oldest tape the paper back together, but wasn’t sure in the moment how to handle the infraction from the youngest.

So I did nothing. He escaped without consequence, and I didn’t talk to the oldest about what she was feeling.

Not a huge issue in the scheme of things, but it got me thinking about “The Horse Whisperer,” “The Dog Whisperer,” and “Super Nanny.”

Redford horse“The Horse Whisperer” was a late ‘90’s movie where Robert Redford calmly and patiently won the trust of a wild horse and turned it into a strong but compliant animal. He started by simply sitting nearby and watching it for days at a time, connecting quietly until he built trust.

I remember thinking, “How could someone simply sit and stare at a horse for hours at a time?” (At the time, my wife suggested it was the same reason she could sit through a movie and stare at Robert Redford for hours at a time . . .)

“The Dog Whisperer” was a TV show where Cesar Millan would enter homes where undisciplined canines had destroyed any sense of order and serenity. The owners had given up. But he would walk through the door, looked the dog in the eyes, make a simple gesture with his hands and gain instant compliance.

“Super Nanny” was a British woman named Jo Frost who tamed kids who were totally out of control. She would come into a home when parents had given up hope, and provide logical, effective discipline that produced angels.

I’m not sure of the exact statistics, but I estimate that I have no idea what to do about 90% of the time. Even when I’m just having coffee with a friend and they tell me about some family situation they’re facing, I have nothing to tell them. I’d like to be profound, but I often draw a blank.

The thing that’s attractive about the three people mentioned above is that they always have answers. They’re confident. They write books about their techniques, suggesting that if we follow their advice, everything will be perfect.

They never say, “Wow . . . I’m stumped on this one. Good luck!”

Sometimes, that makes the rest of us feel like schmucks – especially when it comes to kids. We’re loving parents and grandparents, and would give our lives for these little people. In many ways, we do.

But in real life, scripted answers don’t always work. Kids are fluid. Just when we think we have them figured out and know what to do, they come up with another angle that catches us off guard.

I’m here to celebrate the majority.

We don’t have to be perfect parents. These kids don’t come home from the hospital with instructions and a warranty. We figure it out as we go, feeling inadequate and wondering if we’re ruining our kids.

Our kids won’t turn out perfect, no matter what we do. If we expect that, we’ll be disappointed.

We need to accept our imperfections, admitting them while striving to grow. We need to “be there.” We need to love unconditionally. Our kids need to see how we negotiate life when it’s uncertain.

We need to give ourselves grace.

The Super Nanny was 33 years old when she started the show – and she’s never had kids of her own. I read today that nine years later, she’s thinking of starting a family.

Please, please make it a reality show where we get to see the real moments where her kids don’t know her reputation. We need to see how she handles the moments where she’s out of resources, low on energy, high on frustration and simply at her wit’s end. We need to see her handle a toddler who strips naked in the grocery store, asks “why?” for the hundredth time or washes his dad’s cell phone in the toilet.

If it’s true reality, she won’t be perfect – and we’ll be OK with that.

In fact, it might become our favorite show – because we’ll have a genuine look at what to do when life happens.

How about you . . . ever feel inadequate at your parenting skills?

Why We Like Model Homes

Occasionally, my wife and I will walk through the model homes of a new housing development.  It gives us the chance to do something we don’t do in normal life – walk in the front door of somebody else’s house without knocking, and wander around from room to room.

I’m guessing that if we tried that in our neighborhood, we might also get to explore the back seat of a police cruiser.

I’ve noticed that while we’re walking through these homes, everybody whispers.  It’s like we’re trying not to disturb the occupants, even though we know there aren’t any.

Model homeThe houses are clean.  Music is playing softly in every room.  There’s no clutter.  The garage is empty and immaculate (that’s how I know it’s not real).  Storage space is everywhere.

There are no scratches on cupboard doors, no dust on top of the television, no smudges on the windows. 

There are no dirty dishes in the sink. There’s no mortgage.

They’re beautiful.

And they’re sterile. 

There’s no clutter of real life. There are no echoes in the walls of kids playing, no footprints of love on the carpet.

These houses aren’t lived in.  They’re for show.  We think, “Wow – if we had this house, our lives would be as peaceful as it feels here.”

But eventually those houses sell, and people move in.  The garage fills up; sticky fingerprints show up on appliances; crayons color the walls.

That’s what houses are for.  They’re not for display; they’re a container for real life and real relationships.  If they’re for real life, they have to be used.

It’s like the old children’s book about the Velveteen Rabbit – he had to be loved by a child and have his fur worn off before he became real.

Model homes are nice places to visit.  But our own homes are where life and love happens.  It’s easy to take them for granted.

Maybe today would be a good day to be grateful for our imperfect homes – and the people that make them imperfect.

 

11 Ways to Make Valentine’s Day Special For Your Kids

1. Look them in the eyes, and don’t rush to lose eye contact.

2. Hand them your phone and ask them to turn it completely off for the day.  Tell them, “You’ve got my full attention, and you’re more important than anybody who might call.”

3. Hug them for no reason.  Often.

4. Tell them stories about when they were little (even if they still are).  Go through photo albums and tell how you fell in love with them.

5. Number a page from 1 to 10 and put it on the fridge.  Tell them, “I’m going to think of 10 things today that I really, really like about you.  Whenever I do, I’m going to write it on the list.”

6. Go to a pet store and pet the puppies.

7. Leave notes for them where they’ll find them all day long.

8. When they want to read “just one more book,” read two.

9. Let them hear you complement them to someone else.

10. Ask them to draw you a picture, then put it in a frame and hang it where everyone can see it (instead of putting it on the fridge with a magnet).  Tell them that once a month, you want a new one.

11. Say it – often, and with conviction. “I love you – and you can’t change that, no matter what.

Your kids are older or grown-up?  The ideas still apply.

Valentine

Happy Valentine’s Day!

How the Elephant Got In the Room

My daughter, Sara asked me if I could build her a certain piece of furniture.  I said, “Of course.”  In fact, I gave her a certificate for it for Christmas.

Two years ago.

The problem was that I didn’t know how I was going to build it.  I do well with plans, but not making things up.  This one didn’t have plans.

So I would think about how to do it, but couldn’t figure it out.  So I set it aside for a week or two, thinking it would percolate in the background and I’d know what to do.

A week or two later, nothing had changed.  I wasn’t any closer to a solution.  So I kept putting it off week after week, month after month – because I was stumped.

I’ve learned that when I don’t know how to do something, my default setting is to procrastinate instead of jumping in and tackling something.  (For writers, it’s called “writer’s block” – not feeling inspired, so we put it off for another day.)

Whenever Sara and I would talk, I carefully avoided the subject. For some reason, I didn’t want to let her down or appear incompetent.  Sometimes I would say, “I’m going to Home Depot tomorrow to buy wood.”  And I went and got the wood – but still didn’t know what to do with it.

Since we weren’t talking about it, she didn’t know what was happening.  I assumed she was either irritated or disappointed in me.  But I never asked, so I never knew for sure.  I didn’t want to know.

A few weeks ago, I realized that it had created an unspoken barrier between us.  Here is one of the people I enjoy talking to the most on the planet, and want a close, loving relationship with.  But my silence was building a wall – and had been for two years.

Once I figured out what was happening, I went to her and told her what I was feeling.  I apologized, wanting to do my part to remove the barrier I had created.

As we talked, she said, “Yeah, it was the elephant in the room.”

elephant-room11That’s a word picture we’ve all heard and experienced.  It happens when there’s something that’s obvious and nobody talks about, and we pretend it’s not there. 

I pictured the scenario.  I’m sitting on one side of the living room, and my daughter is on the other side.  We’re peering through the elephant’s legs, trying to make conversation.  It smells, and it fills the room.  It’s noisy.  It’s huge.  But we don’t talk about it.

Once we acknowledge it, we think, “How in the world did that huge elephant get in this room?  It doesn’t even fit through the door!”

That’s when I figured out the answer:

The elephant came in when it was little.

If we wanted to remove it when it first entered, we would simply guide it back through the door.  But by letting it stay, it grew and grew and grew.  Getting rid of it would be a much bigger issue because we waited.

My daughter said, “You know, if you had told me you couldn’t figure it out, we could have spent a day together working on it until we knew what to do.”  That would have been an awesome day with her.  One of our favorite dates is to get coffee at Starbucks and cruise around Home Depot.

I love my daughter.  And I love the fact that we got rid of the elephant. 

The furniture still isn’t done.  But I have the wood.  I figured out the plans.  I’ll be cutting the pieces in the next few days and putting them together.

Mostly, I’ll be letting Sara know how I’m doing.

We might need to go to Home Depot soon.

What’s the lesson in all this?

Watch carefully for baby elephants in the room.  If you let them stay, they’ll get really, really big.

 

Have you had to deal with the elephant in the room in your best relationships?  Comment here . . .

 

A Simple Way To Keep Perspective on Thanksgiving

Millions of blogs are written every day, about millions of topics, and read by millions of people.

I wonder how many of them will talk about being thankful today.

It makes sense, because blog writers tend to write about what’s on their mind at the moment.  And today, it’s Thanksgiving.

I’ve been thinking about that leading up to this post.  What is there to say that hasn’t already been said?

Nothing.  There are really no new ideas – just new perspectives (because each writer is unique).

So, here’s my perspective on thankfulness today:

It’s all about people.

SnoopyWhen someone does something for us, we say “Thank you.”  We teach our kids to do that.  It’s polite.  And if done with intention, it’s meaningful.

It says, “Somebody thought about me, and did something for me.  They didn’t have to, but they did.  They cared.” 

When that happens, we’re thankful – and we express it.

We don’t say “thank you” to inanimate objects.

When a cool breeze blows, we don’t say, “Thank you, wind.”

When we find our car keys after a lengthy search, we don’t say, “Thank you, keys.”

When we discover a deposit in our bank account that we forgot to enter, we don’t say, “Thank you, Wells Fargo.”

We thank people.

The opposite of thankfulness isn’t ungratefulness.  It’s selfishness.  It says, “I don’t need anybody else.  I can live life on my own.”  It devalues the role of other people in our lives.

We value independence in our society.  We don’t want to depend on others.  As a toddler says, “I want to do it by myself.”

So we do it by ourselves.

And we live lonely lives.

Independence is actually a good thing, where we have the ability to make healthy choices in life.  But when it turns into selfishness, it gets in the way of relationships and sucks the life out of us.

Thankfulness is all about people.  It turns independence into interdependence.

Today is Thanksgiving.  Here’s a simple exercise to keep today in perspective:

  • If you’re celebrating with family or friends, pick one person to focus on today – someone you often take for granted.  Think of one thing about them that you’re grateful for, then tell them – and say “thank you.”

 

  • If you’re alone today, pick one person to focus on that you tend to take for granted.  It might be a friend or family member, or it could be a delivery person, restaurant server or someone you pass on the street occasionally.  Think of something about them that you’re grateful for, then find a way to let them know.  Maybe seek them out, or make a quick call, or hand-write a letter or invite them to go on a walk.  Then, say “Thank you.”

That’s it.  One person.  Be intentional about it, and be creative.  It doesn’t have to be fancy.  Just find a way to express thanks to them, in the simplest way.

It could change their entire day, and maybe their life.

It will definitely change yours.

Today, I’m grateful for you.  I don’t take it lightly that you wander on this journey with me a couple of times a week.  You’re good company, and you keep the journey from being lonely.

Thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

How to Motivate Our Kids

When my kids were born, I vowed never to say these words:

“Because I said so.”

I knew that parents resorted to those words when they were out of options. But I figured that if I was a good enough parent, I wouldn’t run out of options.

That made it even worse the first time I said it.

Motivating kidsIt’s tough to motivate others when they have a mind of their own.

When our kids are little, we’re in control. We tell them what to do, when to do it and how to do it.  We call the shots.

But as they get older, they become more independent. That’s healthy, because they need to know how to handle life on their own when we’re not around. 

 

But how do we motivate them when we can no longer control them?

Too often, parents resort to a boss/employee approach. If I’m your boss and I want to motivate you to clean your office, I have three options:

  1. I can say, “If you clean your office, I will give you $20.” (positive)
  2. I can say, “If you don’t clean your office, I will punch you in the nose.” (negative)
  3. I can influence you to want a clean office. (intrinsic)

With #1, you’ll learn to perform only if I keep paying you.  With #2, you’ll do it – but it makes everything harder in the future.

#3 produces long-term results, because the motivation comes from inside, not outside. 

So, how do we motivate our kids to make wise choices on their own?

I’m not pretending to have solid answers.  There are lots of books on the topic that promise to have “the answer.” But different kids need different approaches.  There’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution.

Instead, here are a few thoughts.  Don’t take them as advice, and it’s OK to disagree. Just use them as a catalyst for thinking about your own kids (no matter what age):

  • The older our kids become, the more we shift from control to influence.
  • Kids aren’t adults, so they need to test out their ways to handle life.  That means they’ll make mistakes.  They need an environment where it’s OK to mess up and still be loved.
  • We need to catch our kids doing things right and tell them.
  • Our communication needs to be scented with grace.  It’s hard to motivate someone in a positive direction when most of our comments are negative.
  • When our kids are making poor choices, it’s easy to make that the focal point of all our interaction.  Even in those tough times, we need casual, relaxed conversations about normal life stuff.
  • It’s enabling when people focus on our strengths instead of just our weaknesses.
  • Using a “win-win” approach with our kids let us explore solutions that will satisfy both of us, instead of us just calling all the shots.
  • When we need them to do something, we should be clear about outcomes.  Then allow them some flexibility and choice in how they reach that outcome.
  •  Everyone wants to feel valuable to others.  Our kids need to know they’re not invisible, and that we value them for who they are – not just for how they perform.

There are no guarantees or easy answers.  We just need an intentional strategy for motivating our kids, so we don’t get stuck saying, “Because I said so.”

What have you tried that has worked? (Comment below)

 

 

 

 

Why Kids Draw Big Nostrils

Have you ever noticed that whenever little kids draw adults, they usually include big nostrils?

There’s a reason for that. Think about a kid’s perspective.  When they’re about three feet tall, and they look up an adult that’s five or six feet tall . . . what do they see?

Nostrils.  Big nostrils.

When they’re looking straight up, it’s the first thing they notice.  From their vantage point, those nostrils are rather obvious. So, why wouldn’t they draw them?

Big nostrilsMakes sense.  But it got me thinking.

When adults have conversations with each other, they’re normally at the same level.  Even if there’s a difference in height, we can look each other in the eyes.  We connect.  We communicate.  It feels like an adult conversation.

Eye contact makes all the difference.

With kids, it’s different.  Adults tower over them, so it’s hard to have the same level of eye contact.  Sure, we get down and play with them.  But in the routine of day-to-day living, adults tend to talk down, while kids listen up.

I don’t want to put too much weight on this.  But I think it’s worth considering.

A friend is in a wheelchair because of a car accident years ago.  He was speaking to a group of young adults at our church once, and allowed people to ask any question they wanted about life in a wheelchair.  People wanted to know how to treat the disabled, whether they should open doors for them without asking – just common courtesy questions.

Someone asked, “Is there anything you’d like us to do differently?”  He responded, “When you’re holding an extended conversation with me, sit down so we can be at the same level and look each other in the eyes.”

I never thought of that.  But that’s what real conversation is all about – looking each other in the eyes. 

I think that applies to kids as well.  When we’re having an in-depth conversation with a child (especially our own), we need to get to their level so we can make that connection.

That might mean squatting down while we talk.  It might mean plopping them up on the kitchen counter so we can see the whites of their eyes, and they can see ours.  It means we’re able to see into each other’s soul.  Eye contact is an emotional hug that says, “You’re important to me.”

So I’m not suggesting that we have to do that in every conversation.  We just need to be aware of how often we do connect at that level, and how often we don’t.  Then make intentional choices based on what we discover.

Bottom line: My goal is that when my kids or grandkids draw pictures of me, it won’t be with huge nostrils.

It will be huge eyes – because that’s what they’re used to seeing.

ThoughtsComment here.

How Our Conversations Shape Our Kids

When our son was little, someone asked him, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

We expected him to say, “a fireman” or “a doctor” or “an astronaut.”

His answer surprised us all: “I want to be honest.”

Now, at age 32, Tim has fulfilled his childhood dream.  He’s one of the most honest people I know.

That doesn’t mean he’s always made good choices.  When you’re growing up, you make mistakes when you’re finding your path.  He didn’t always volunteer information – but when we asked, he told us the truth.

But honesty is simply a part of who he is.  It’s important to him.

I don’t know if he remembers giving that response, but he’s heard us tell that story often.  The more he heard it, the more real it became for him.

We’ve also pointed out how sensitive he was to the feelings of others when he was growing up – how he could just “sense” what was really going on inside a person.

That’s also who he is.  Now, he’s managing a restaurant near San Diego – and his intuitive skills have made his customer service world-class.

kidsAs kids, we were all influenced by what people said about us.  When someone pointed out a hidden skill or strength that we didn’t know we had, we listened.  The words stuck.  And if others pointed out the same thing, we began to believe it.

The opposite is also true.  If someone devalued us as a child or pointed out a negative trait that we hadn’t noticed, we listened.  The words stuck.  If others pointed out the same thing, we began to believe that, too.

Kids are impressionable.  Before they have skills of discernment, they believe what people say about them.

They believe the good words.

They believe the bad words.

They become what others see in them.

It’s not that different for adults, is it?  We tend to believe the perceptions of others, even if those perceptions are inaccurate.  People’s words can either give life to us, or they can steal it from us.

The Bible says, “The power of life and death is in the tongue.”

So, what does it mean?

  • Our kids are listening to what we say about them, even if we don’t realize it.
  • We need to acknowledge – to their face – the unique strengths we see in them.
  • We need to tell others – with our kids listening – about those same strengths.
  • We need to be intentional about the way we describe our kids – to them, and to others.
  • We need to avoid praising our kids for characteristics they don’t have, but that we hope they’ll get.  That’s flattery.  They sense it’s not true, and we lose integrity and influence with them.
  • We need to look for the strengths in the adults around us, and affirm them honestly in those areas.  People assume that adults don’t need encouragement, because they look like they have their act together.  They don’t.  Nobody does.  It’s part of being human, and we need each other.

Our words will make a difference in another person’s life, whether we know it or not.

Choose those words carefully.

Comments?

Keeping Your Kids Curious

Curious babyKids are naturally curious.  If you’ve spent any time around four-year olds, you know how many times they ask, “Why?”

Because of that curiosity, they explore.  When they discover how to do something they repeat it, over and over again. 

Nobody forces them; they do it for the sheer enjoyment of discovery. 

Most adults have lost that curiosity. We get busy with our lives and our work, and don’t have time to investigate.  After all, what we’re doing is working; why would we want to consider doing it differently?

So where did we lose it?

I think it often happens when kids try to be curious, but it’s not a positive experience for them. 

One psychologist says that there are three main reasons kids quit being curious:

    • Fear.  If a child doesn’t feel safe in his/her environment, they don’t have a secure comfort zone to return to after they’ve been exploring.  A family crisis makes kids uncertain, so they hang tight to whatever they can just to survive.
    • Disapproval.  If parents show disgust when their child comes in with muddy shoes, the kids will quit digging for earthworms and exploring the ground.
    • Absence.  When parents have their back, kids feel safe roaming.  But when parents are physically or emotionally absent, those kids lose the foundation from which they can explore their world.  They also don’t have anyone to share their discoveries with, which is what encourages them to stay curious.

So, how can we make sure our kids keep their curiosity as they move through life?  Here are 10 ways:

    1. Model curiosity. When they’re in the car with you, always take a different route home.  Order something new every time you go to a restaurant. Tell them it’s because you want to know what else is out there.
    2. Ask open-ended questions that allows them to think.  Instead of, “How was school?” ask, “Tell me something you learned today that you didn’t know yesterday.” Instead of, “Who’s you’re best friend?” ask, “What is it about your best friend that makes you want to hang out with them?”
    3. Whenever they demonstrate curiosity, affirm them.  “That’s so interesting – the way you look at that.  I love it when you observe things that nobody else sees.”
    4. Take a walk with them in a crowded area of your city, and listen for sounds that are not man-made – like birds chirping, water running or the wind blowing through trees.  Teach them the value of listening and observing their environment.
    5. Ask the journalist’s questions about everything: Who, What, Where, When, How and Why.
    6. Don’t get bored.  They’re watching.  Whenever you’re bored, acknowledge it, but use it as a trigger to explore something.  Help them develop that pattern.
    7. Teach them that failure is OK.  Failure means you’ve learned one more thing that doesn’t work, so you’re that much closer to success.  Then keep moving forward.  That’s a skill they’ll use the rest of their lives.
    8. Teach them the value of good questions, and make it safe to risk answering – and safe if they’re wrong as well.
    9. Limit their media input.  Sure, TV can be educational – but it’s simply handing them content, not whetting their appetite to explore and question their world.
    10. When they share discoveries with you, don’t add your knowledge to it.  Let it be their moment.  Ask probing questions about what they’ve shared, so they’ll want to explore more – and share more.

Try one or two of those ideas today.  It’ll help your kids stay curious – but it might awaken your curiosity as well!

 

What have you tried that keeps your curiosity sharp? Comment here:

 

Finding Common Ground

The phone call came on Monday: “Can you fly to Mexico City tomorrow to teach a seminar on Wednesday?”

Normally, my first thoughts are about logistics: arranging flights and hotels, finding the seminar location, and making the right contacts.  But this time, my first question was, “Do they speak English?”  My Spanish consisted of the one phrase my grandmother knew: Como se llama su gato? (What is your cat’s name?)

That question could be handy in the right circumstances, but I wasn’t sure I could turn it into a full-day seminar. 

I was assured that my participants would be English speaking.  The company sent a driver to pick me up at the airport for the three-hour drive to the hotel.  I assumed that he would be able to communicate in English, but that wasn’t the case. Somehow he figured out who I was and approached me as I entered the terminal.  He had written out a sign with my name on it, so I followed him to the parking structure.

The language barrier was immediately obvious.  I made a few simple comments about the crowded terminal, the weather, and the time of day.  He just smiled and raised his hands as if to say, “Sorry – I don’t understand.”  He also made a few comments; I smiled and raised my hands in the same way.

It was obvious that our long ride would be a quiet one.

When he didn’t understand me, I found myself speaking a bit louder or a bit slower, thinking that would make a difference.  But there was no getting around one simple fact:

            He didn’t speak my language, and I didn’t speak his.

Nothing I could do would change that.

Mostly we just smiled at each other.  We couldn’t understand each other’s words, but we could smile.  Somehow, that began to form a connection between us.  As he drove, we accepted the language barrier and looked for other ways to communicate.

The best moment came when he remembered something he had in his glove compartment.  He reached over, fumbled through a pile of cassette tapes and pulled one out.  His huge smile appeared when he showed me one that he had obviously made himself with the words “American Music” written on the label with a blue marker.

We both laughed as he proudly inserted the tape and turned up the volume.  Who would have thought that old Sonny and Cher songs could be the common ground between two people?

To communicate effectively with my driver, I had three choices:

  1. I could learn Spanish.
  2. He could learn English.
  3. We could find some other common ground.

Option 1 would work in future situations, but not in that moment.

Option 2 assumes that it’s the other person’s responsibility to make the conversation work.

Option 3 can make effective communication a reality: finding common ground.

black-and-white-baby-togetherEveryone is human, which means they share a number of life experiences and emotions.  Those similarities can be the touch points that connect people at the heart.

A lot of people feel like they have to be really smart or well-read to be a good conversationalist. 

There’s an easier way:

Instead of trying to impress another person, try understanding them.  Look for the common ground between you, no matter how different they are.

Try it today with your boss – a stranger – your spouse – your kids – your colleagues.  Look for what unites you, not for what divides you.

It’s the foundation of every healthy relationship.

10 Things Our Kids Need to Hear Every Week (no matter what their age)

10.  There’s nobody in the world exactly like you.

9.   I can’t get over how awesome it is to have you as my kid.

8.   You make a difference.  You can always make a difference.

7.   You’re valuable – not because of what you do, but simply because you’re you.

6.   What you think matters to me – whether I agree or not.

5.   Nobody’s perfect – give yourself some grace. It’s OK to make mistakes.

4.   Spending a day with you is an awesome day for me.

3.   Don’t let other people’s opinion of you define you.

2.   I believe in you.

1.   You can’t make me not love you – no matter what.  Ever.

baby with headphones

Questions To Ask Over Dinner (Part 2)

Well, it’s been an interesting couple of weeks.

Old coupleTwo weeks ago, I posted ten questions to ask during dinner.  We talked about how we sometimes just run out of things to discuss, and need a little catalyst.  So the first ten questions were designed to get things started again.

We haven’t finished them yet, but they’ve led to some interesting discussions.  I’ve heard the same from others — that it’s fun to put a little structure into a conversation once in a while.  Plus, people like talking about themselves and sharing their thoughts.  This is a legitimate way to do that.

So, let’s go for Round 2.  Here are ten more questions.  Print them off, and pick a different one each night to talk about.  Don’t have expectations — just enjoy the process.  You’ll probably be surprised at the level of connection you reach.

These are slightly “deeper” than the first batch.  A couple of weeks from now, I’ll give you a single question to ask — and you’ll probably have to think about whether you’re ready to ask it or not.

Here we go:

  1. What do you think makes you most memorable to others?
  2. What’s one life experience that you’d like to go back and live over again?
  3. Describe a time when you were embarrassed by a family member.
  4. What’s the correct way to squeeze a toothpaste tube?
  5. Describe the first funeral you ever attended.
  6. Are you hopeful about your future?  Why or why not?
  7. What’s a historical event that you would like to have witnessed – or participated in?
  8. What’s a hereditary trait that you don’t want to pass on to your kids?
  9. How much money would you need to call yourself rich? (Financially rich)
  10. If you could solve one crisis or problem in the world, what would it be?

Try it.  Share it.  Discuss it. Comment below with your experience and insights (and other topics).

See where it takes you!

 

Questions To Ask Over Dinner (Part 1)

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been together.

Sometimes, you run out of things to talk about.

Diane and I have been married for a really, really long time.  It’s always amazed me that we don’t get tired of each other, and there’s almost always something to discuss. When there’s not, it’s OK.  We can sit in silence and just appreciate being together.

Bored at dinnerMaybe it’s because life happens, and it impacts us – so we talk about how we feel, and what it means between us.

But sometimes, we’ve been too busy to connect.  If it’s been awhile, it can feel a little strained.  It’s not that there are barriers; we just get a bit dry.  We might try to bring something up, but it feels forced.

Does that ever happen to you?

In those times, it might feel artificial to jump into deep discussions about finances, family issues or friends.  We’ll get there eventually.  But it might be better to jump-start the dialogue with something simple, safe and non-threatening.

Try this idea:

Here are a few questions to ask each other on that level.  Print them off and keep them handy.  Each night for a week or so, pick one and talk about it over dinner and see where the discussion goes.  Don’t expect dramatic results; just have fun with them as you explore each other’s thoughts.  It probably won’t be deep, but you’ll enjoy sharing each other’s perspective.

  1. What was the worst date you ever went on? (Present company excluded)
  2. Who is one person you have the utmost respect for?  Why?
  3. What three words best describe you?  Explain.
  4. What was your favorite TV show when you were a kid – and what did you like most about it?
  5. Describe your favorite teacher in high school
  6. Describe yourself when you were in the best shape of your life – and what got you there.
  7. If they made a movie about your life, who would be the best person to play the part of you?
  8. What do you miss most about being a kid?
  9. How would you spend a million dollars if you had to do it in 24 hours?  (You can’t save it or invest it)
  10. If you had to lose one of your five senses, which one would you give up?

Consider sending this post to a couple you’re close to (or one that seems to be having communication issues), suggesting they try it as well.  Then compare notes the next time you’re together.

In a week or so, we’ll look at a few other questions – maybe at a slightly deeper level (Part 2).  Then, a week or so after that, we’ll talk about the single most important question you can ask the most important person in your life (Part 3).

Sometimes, we need to relax with each other.  See if this doesn’t lubricate your dialogue over the next few days.

What other questions could you ask each other to accomplish the same thing?  Add your ideas to the comments below (or at the top of this post).

 

You Don’t Have To Go To the Gym (or anywhere else)

John’s mother knocked on his door.  “John, it’s time for church.”

“I don’t want to go,” came the reply.

“You have to go to church today,” his mom said.

“I don’t want to go. It’s boring; I don’t like the people there; they don’t like me.

“John, there are two reasons you have to go to church.  First, you’re 47 years old.  Second, you’re the pastor.”

OK, old joke.  But I think that’s how a lot of people feel.  But it’s not just church we feel stuck with; it’s work, it’s the gym, it’s helping our child with their homework or visiting relatives.

I run into these people often in seminars.  They feel trapped in a job they don’t like because they need the money.  Or they hate exercise, but go to the gym because they have to.  Time spent with people feels like an unavoidable delay in their schedule.

I read a study this morning that said that about 80% of people surveyed would change jobs if they had the opportunity.

“I have to go to work” – “I have to go to the gym” – “I have to . . .”

Saying we “have” to do something means we don’t have a choice.  We’re at the mercy of someone else’s demands.

exercise-boredomIf we feel like we have to go to the gym, it becomes something we dread.  With that perspective, it takes every ounce of willpower to grab our shoes and get out the door.  Then, we’re counting the minutes until it’s over.

If we feel like we have to go to work, we’ll arrive at the last possible minute and count down the hours until we can leave.  We do the work, but we’re not fully engaged.

If we feel like we have to help our 6th grader with their homework, it becomes an unbearable chore.

What if we could change “have to” to “get to?”

It’s a subtle change.  But what if we started seeing all of life through a filter of gratitude?

How would our days be different if we said, “I get to go to work today” . . . ?  There are a lot of people who would give anything to be able to go to work today.

What if we thought, “I get to go to the gym” . . . ?  We could be grateful for the ability to work out and the chance to invest in our physical capacity – something that not everyone can do.

How would we look at 6th grade math if we said, “I get to invest in my child tonight” . . . ? Ten years from now, we’ll wish we had those intimate moments with that same child again.

Ten years from now, we’ll look back on our work – and our times at the gym – and those encounters with our kids.

Will we have regrets?

Not if we’re grateful now.

Forgive AND Forget?

I’ve read a ton of stuff about forgiving the people who cause us pain.

Forgive and forget matrix

It’s valuable information.  It provides a great blueprint for handling relationships that hurt.  It keeps us from becoming victims.

The advice is usually focused on one phrase:

Forgive and forget.

The first word (“forgive”) is where we usually put our energy.  It takes a series of conscious choices to forgive someone who has wronged us.

If we don’t forgive, we put the other person in control of our emotions.  We say, “They ruined my life.”  In effect, we shift the blame to them for anything that’s wrong in our lives.  We feel like they messed everything up, so we don’t take responsibility for moving forward.

I get it.  I buy it.  I’ve seen the value of taking responsibility for our own emotional health.

It’s good to forgive.  Not easy, but good.  It’s worth the effort.

But I’ve always had a problem with the second word – forget.

Somehow, it feels unhealthy to forget. It’s like saying, “The hurt never happened.”

But the greater the hurt, the harder it is to forget.

And I’m not sure we should.

Forgive and forget matrixMaybe it’s a co-worker who stabbed us in the back on their way to the top.  Maybe it’s a close friend who betrayed us.  Maybe it’s a spouse who damaged us with their choices.

We’ll probably always remember the damage that was done – especially when we live with the scars. We’ll always remember what people did to us.  If the relationship is important, we’ll forgive – but not forget.

If I forget the hurt, I set myself up to be hurt again.

If I remember the hurt, I can choose what to do with it.  I might be able to let it go . . . but I might establish boundaries in our relationship to keep it healthy in the future.

Trust doesn’t happen immediately when it’s been broken; it takes time to rebuild.

What if we said, “Forgive and remember?”

Maybe our forgiveness would gain meaning, because it’s based on reality.  Remembering allows us to be realistic instead of bitter.

It’s like growing up with an emotionally abusive parent who’s been gone for years.  “Forgiving and remembering” doesn’t ignore the hurt.  But instead of obsessing about the wrong done to us, we can use it to heal.  “My life is tougher because of what they did – but I can make choices about how I live.”

C.S. Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.”

Got someone you’ve been trying to forgive and forget, but it’s just not working?  Is there someone who has their emotions in their grip?

What would it look like if you could break free?  What would it look like to forgive and remember?

 

A blog (at least this one) isn’t a teaching tool; it’s a conversation starter.  I’ve been sharing my often unfinished thoughts over these months, and you’ve picked up the conversation by reacting and commenting.  That’s awesome – it’s how we learn from each other and grow.

Keep sharing your thoughts.  Invite others to join the discussion.  Keep interacting with each other.

Maybe we’ll all grow a little in the process.

A Husband’s Guide to Valentine’s Day (for next year)

There are two groups of husbands in America:

Meat Heart
  1. Those who made Valentine’s Day special for their wives.
  2. The other 90%.

OK, maybe the numbers are off.  But here’s what happens on that special day:

  • Hallmark stores are jammed with guys who took off work early to pick through the few cards that remain on the rack, trying to select a sentiment that was written by someone else to impress their spouse.   (If they’re late enough, it’s happening at 7-11.)
  • They go to the grocery store and find the “temporary red” aisle, buying chocolate that a marketing person convinced them would be romantic because it’s wrapped in red foil over a heart-shaped box.
  • They buy a cinnamon-scented candle and a small stuffed bear to demonstrate how thoughtful and sensitive they are.
  • If it weren’t for the guy selling overpriced roses in the median next to the left-hand turn lane, the evening would be a disaster.

So, what’s wrong with this picture?

It’s supposed to be a day when we reflect on how special our wives are, and we do things to celebrate how much they mean to us.  We want them to feel special, and loved, and respected, and needed, and appreciated.  We really do.

But honestly, our Valentine’s Day shopping isn’t usually about honoring them.

It’s about us not wanting to feel guilty.

Meat HeartThose gifts usually don’t come from deep inside of us, expressing our love.  They’re convenient purchases to convince our wives that we were thinking about them.

Now, I’m not trying to heap on more guilt here.  I’m writing from my own experience over the years.

I adore my wife.  She means the world to me.  But when it comes to Valentine’s Day, many of us seem to be missing the romance gene.  (Otherwise, the card store wouldn’t be so crowded at the last minute.)

We’re guys.

So, we’ve got a year to figure this out.  Is there anything we can do to make next year’s Valentine’s Day a true celebration – without having to change the way we’re hard-wired?

Try this:

  • Buy cards and flowers occasionally throughout the year, unrelated to a holiday.  Do it “just because.”
  • Next year, don’t buy a valentine.  Go to the blank card section and find one that reminds you of something in your relationship.  Write your own words in it.  No poetry – just a sentence or two in your own words.
  • Initiate a date once a month, doing something that’s more important to her than it is to you.  Put it on your calendar.  Make the arrangements yourself instead of having her do it.
  • Every Sunday afternoon, plan the week ahead.  Ask yourself, “What is the most important thing I can do this week in my relationship with my wife?”  Not the biggest – the most important.  Then schedule it.  Block off time to make it happen, and protect it the way you would protect any other appointment.
  • Have mini-Valentine’s Days throughout the year.  Whatever you would normally do on that holiday, surprise her on a random day several times in the year.
  • When you come home from work, sit in your car for an extra minute before going in the house.  Tell yourself, “I’m just about to do the most important work of my day.”  Then find the energy – somehow – to give your spouse your best attention.
  • Once you walk in, immediately give her a hug.  Ask her questions about her day – then listen to what she says.  Make it about her – she’s worth it.  You can talk about you later.
  • Think about what you did when you were dating, trying to win her heart.  Now you have that heart – don’t take it for granted.  Keep pursuing it.
  • Be grateful.  It’s easy to focus on the things that irritate you.  Keep track of the things that you’re grateful for.
  • At least twice a week, do one of the chores she usually does (without being asked).
  • OK, you’re tired in the evening.   So is she.  Spend less time sitting.

Want next year to be a guilt-free Valentine’s celebration? 

Start now.  Make it a lifestyle, not an event.  Don’t spend money; invest yourself.

She’s worth it.

(If you’re a wife reading this, don’t cut this out and sneak it into his briefcase.  Just say, “Hey – a guy wrote this.  Check it out if you’re interested.”  And leave it at that.)

Leave your comments below – or under the headline at the top.