Three Tips for Better Time Outs

What do you do when little Johnny decides that using his tongue to shoot corn across the dinner table is so funny he just can’t (or won’t) stop, despite your repeated requests?

What do you do when your tween daughter’s rage crosses a red line and she starts throwing things around the room?

If you’re like most parents, you probably give those kids a “time out.”

 

Time Outs: A Short History

The idea of giving kids a time out was first proposed in the 1960s by psychologist Arthur Staats. After extensive research, he concluded that briefly removing children from the place where they were misbehaving was much more effective in helping them develop self-control than the all-too-typical parenting approaches of the time, yelling or spanking.

Done properly, a time out removes the child from the circumstances that are causing the problem behavior (corn and an audience, in little Johnny’s case) and gives him or her a chance to focus on regaining self-control. As an added bonus, it gives frustrated parents a break, allowing them to cool down and figure out some productive next steps.

But parents and kids only reap those benefits if time outs are used appropriately. Dr. Staats taught that the technique needs to be applied consistently, and that children need to be warned of the consequences of their behavior in advance. Most importantly, time outs work best in the context of a positive parent-child relationship.

While many research studies have shown that time outs can be an effective approach to helping kids self-regulate, too often, well-meaning parents and guardians deploy time outs in ways that are ineffective, at best.

 

One Tool Among Many

Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak include a chapter on time outs in their parenting books, Parenting Your Kids with Grace and Parenting Your Teens and Tweens with Grace. Tellingly, though, those chapters come late in the books, because they are preceded by other chapters aimed at cultivating strong, resilient parent-child relationships. Time outs have their place, but they should be only one of many “tools” in a parent’s toolbox.

 

Three Tips for More Effective Time Outs

Here, then, are some tips for using time outs effectively.

1. Nurturing a vibrant, resilient parent-child relationship comes first. Parents who use time outs as their only discipline method are likely to be disappointed with the results. A better approach is to focus on strengthening your connection with your child using methods such as collecting, “time-ins,” virtue prompting, positive reinforcement, coaching, team building, do overs, and family rituals, to name a few of the other techniques the Popcaks highlight. These practices make time outs less frequent—and more effective when they are needed.

 

2. Time out is about taking a break, not punishment. The main purpose of a time out is to help kids bring their emotional temperature down to a place where they can actually think straight. Once they feel calmer and more regulated, they are in a better place to deal with whatever problem or provocation set them off in the first place. (The Popcaks prefer to talk about “taking a break” with older kids and teens.) The discipline method developed by St. John Bosco, as well as the Theology of the Body developed by St. John Paul II, both point to the real purpose of discipline: helping children realize their full humanity in the image of God. The goal of a time out isn’t punishment; it is creating a space where parents can help kids be better people.

 

3. Make time for coaching or collaborative problem-solving, too. A common misstep is to release a child from time out without any follow up. But if the purpose of time out is to help the child be a better human, then once everyone is feeling calmer and more regulated, the next step is to sit down and do some coaching or collaborative problem solving.

 

In this post-time out phase, the focus is: What is a better way of handling this situation in the future? In other words, how can your child or teen meet his or her real needs in a way that respects you and others? In the case of little Johnny, you might agree that it’s OK to have a corn-spitting contest on the grass outside after dinner—but that it’s disrespectful of others at the table. In the case of your tween daughter, the follow-up conversation might be more involved, but the basic goal is the same.

For much more about effective parenting strategies rooted in Catholic wisdom, check out the Popcaks’ parenting books, Parenting Your Kids with Grace and Parenting Your Teens and Tweens with Grace. Better yet, join their vibrant community of Catholic parents at CatholicHOM.com.

How to Give Helpful Advice Without Overstepping

We’ve all been there, watching someone struggle with a problem without making any progress: the spouse who is perpetually late, the friend who won’t leave a dead-end relationship, the college graduate whose job search has stalled out.

Meanwhile, we can see exactly what they need to do to fix their problem…if only they would just listen!

It’s one thing to yell advice at the television as we watch our favorite team fall apart on the field. But when the person in question is someone close to us, our “helpful advice” will probably be ignored—or worse, met with annoyance.

There’s a better way to help the people closest to us, though, as Dr. Greg Popcak discusses in his book, God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! Making Peace With Difficult People. Here’s a summary of the process he outlines in chapter 2 of the book.

 

What’s Your Motivation?

Before offering your advice, take a moment to ask, “Why am I so eager to jump in with my two cents?”

Let’s face it: sometimes, it’s less about them and more about us looking for some kind of personal ego boost.

If we’re living a Christ-centered life, though, our main motivation should be to love the person in the way God loves them. The Christian definition of love is wanting the other’s good. Our aim, then, should be to help our friend or family member become more fully the person God intends for them to be.

Aligning our desire for the person we’re trying to help with God’s desire for them is absolutely critical. If we’re not on board with God’s plan for them, then we’re at risk of simply trying to impose our own wishes, desires, and preferences on the person we’re trying to help. Rather than helping the person become the unique and wonderful reflection of God’s image that they were made to be, we’re really trying to remake them in our own image.

The reality is, playing God is way above our pay grade.

 

Are You Invited to the Party?

Unless you’re in a formal mentoring or supervising relationship (as the parent of a child, for example), steer clear of offering advice that hasn’t been asked for.

“The rule of thumb when helping others is wait to be invited to the party before you offer to bring the potato salad,” Dr. Popcak writes.

That doesn’t mean you need to sit by biting your tongue. You can offer your help, respectfully: “I know you’re struggling with your job search. I think I might be able to help, if you want.”

Whether the person is open to hearing your advice or not, this approach strengthens your relationship because you’re showing up as a respectful ally, not a boss ready to take charge of their life.

 

Start with Listening

Listening is an act of love, the saying goes, and it’s a critical part of giving good advice.

“If you really are interested in helping a person become what God created him to be, your first step should be to ask him who he thinks that is, and then you should be quiet and listen,” Dr. Popcak says.

If “who does God want you to become?” is a little too abstract, break the question down. Ask them what qualities they want to be known for at the end of their life. Do they want to be known as a strong person? A loving person? Wise, prudent, patient, creative?

Next, ask a follow-up question: If the person were to live out those qualities in the situation that is causing the problem, how would he or she act differently? In other words, if they approached the problem in a way that lined up with their aspirations, how would the situation change?

Often, this question helps a solution to “snap into place,” Dr. Popcak says. Better yet, because the solution comes from inside the person and lines up with their own stated values, they are more likely to act on it.

 

For more ideas about how to help the people in your life, check out God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! Making Peace With Difficult People. Or, if you want more one-on-one advice, connect with one of more than a dozen Catholic counselors at CatholicCounselors.com.

Kids Behaving Badly? Follow These 3 Steps to Turn That Problem into an Opportunity

Imagine you screw up at work one day, the kind of mistake that makes life harder for the whole team. Your boss pulls you aside to talk about it. Which approach would you prefer he take?

  1. Yelling at you and generally venting his frustration.
  2. Docking your pay or vacation time.
  3. Lecturing you about your dumb mistake.
  4. Working with you to figure out where things went wrong, then showing you a better way to do things the next time.

If you answered A, B, or C, please schedule a counseling appointment at CatholicCounselors.com as soon as possible!

But if you are a parent and you answered D, here’s a follow-up question: Which approach do you take with your kids when they screw up?

Many parents respond to their kids’ misbehavior with some sort of reactive punishment (options A, B, and C). That’s understandable, especially when we’re stressed; reactive punishments are quick and easy.

But this approach has big drawbacks, Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak said recently on their CatholicHOM podcast. For one thing, while it might stop problem behavior in the short term, it doesn’t address the root cause of the behavior. This, in turn, can cause bigger problems in the long run. It also strains rather than strengthens the bond between parent and child.

And, ironically enough, it can leave parents feeling frustrated and powerless.

Instead of taking the quickest path to stopping kids’ misbehavior, the Popcaks urge parents to see problem behavior as an opportunity to help their child grow in maturity, and in the process, form a stronger bond with their child. This is the attitude Jesus took with the people he met; rather than focus only on stopping bad behavior, he worked for their growth and healing so that they would have a stronger relationship with him.

Here are three questions parents can ask to guide them through this Christ-centered approach to discipline.

 

1. What Is My Child Trying to Do?

The first question is, “What is my child trying to do?”

 “They’re trying to drive me crazy, of course!” might be your first response. But the reality is that even the most obnoxious behavior is rooted in the child trying to fulfill some need or desire. Identifying that need or desire opens the door to teaching the child a more appropriate way of meeting it.

For example, a child who whines or speaks disrespectfully is really trying to communicate their feelings or needs; they just don’t know how to do it appropriately.

Sometimes, figuring out a child’s intention is as simple as asking, “What were you hoping would happen by acting that way?” Other times, though, figuring out a child’s motivation for misbehaving may require parents putting themselves in the child’s place.

 

2. How Can I Teach My Child to Do Better?

The next question for parents to ask is, “How can I teach my child to meet their need or desire in a better way?”

Helping kids figure out more appropriate strategies for getting what they need or want is the heart of this Christ-centered discipline approach. If a child is whining or speaking disrespectfully, for example, the parent might model for her a more respectful tone of voice and choice of words.

Simply shutting down the behavior without teaching the child a better way to get what they want makes it more likely “they’re going to keep trying to meet that need in some kind of crazy way,” Lisa Popcak said. “And then you’re going to think, ‘They never listen to me. I’ve told them a thousand times. What’s wrong with them?’”

 

3. How Can I Teach My Child in a Way That Draws Us Closer?

The third question is, “How can I teach my child this new strategy in a way that makes us closer?”

Parents are often stumped by this question, Dr. Popcak said, but really, it’s as simple as asking yourself how you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed.

“Do you want someone to come along and shame you? Do you want someone to come along and take your important things away from you?” he said. “Or do you just want them to come alongside you and appreciate what you’re trying to do, and saying, ‘You know, I get it. That’s not the best way to do it, but I get where you’re coming from. Let’s figure this out together,’ and really work with you without making you feel like an idiot.”

 

A Catholic Approach Rooted in the Dignity of the Child

In the big picture, a Catholic approach to discipline is all about recognizing, respecting, and nurturing the inherent dignity of our children.

Each child is “a son or daughter of the most high God,” Lisa Popcak said. “That’s where their dignity comes from, and that’s what we have to train them into, step by step throughout their lives, by upholding that dignity…so they can treat other people the same way.

“That’s an incredibly Catholic way to parent.”

If you would like help applying this approach to your own family situation, consider joining CatholicHOM, the app for Catholic families, where you can drop a question into the community forum anytime. Or for more personal guidance, reach out to a Catholic family therapist at CatholicCounselors.com.

Give Your Kids ‘Little Lice’ (and Other Affectionate Touch) to Help Them Thrive

In Latin America, they call it piojito—literally, “little lice”—but parents all around the world use this special form of physical affection to bond with their children. The Spanish name hints at the basic technique: parents draw their fingertips over their child’s head, back, or arm in short, gentle strokes.

The resulting sensation might remind some people of little lice, but the effect is more magical, evoking a warm, cozy feeling—and a sense of closeness between the person giving and receiving the touch.

It turns out that lightly stroking the hairy parts of our skin at just the right speed activates special nerve cells called C-tactile fibers. The activated CT fibers signal the release of dopamine, which in turn lights up parts of the brain that process sensation, emotion, and reward. The resulting burst of pleasure motivates us to seek out the same connection again, strengthening the relationship.

 

We’re Hard-Wired for Physical Affection

But if the idea of imitating creepy-crawly little bugs turns you off, don’t despair. Piojito isn’t the only way to connect with your kids; many types of physical affection are just as effective. 

What is most important, according to Dr. Greg Popcak, is for parents to be generous with appropriate physical affection.

“We’re hard-wired by God to long for affection and to want to be affectionate with each other,” Dr. Popcak says in a video on CatholicHOM, the Catholic parenting app. “In fact, for mental and physical well-being, affection is a more fundamental need than even food.”

The importance of so-called “social touch” for kids’ healthy development has been understood for decades. In the moment, physical affection measurably reduces stress and pain. But it also releases growth hormones, boosts the immune system, and strengthens brain development. Children who experience regular affectionate touch often display stronger cognitive skills, empathy, and emotional resiliency.

The benefits of physical touch last well into adulthood, according to one decades-long study by Duke University researchers of 482 people. The researchers found that individuals who received lots of affection from their mothers as eight-month-old infants “showed significantly lower levels of distress, anxiety and hostility” as 34-year-old adults.

 

But I’m Just Not Affectionate!

Parents sometimes tell Lisa Popcak, a family coach and vice president of the CatholicCounselors.com, that they’re “just not affectionate” or that their children aren’t affectionate. But while some people may shun affection due to a neurodevelopmental disorder such as autism, in most cases, “if we aren’t affectionate, it’s actually because somehow affection was trained out of us,” she says.

The good news is that even people who aren’t used to giving and receiving affection can train themselves to become more comfortable with it. But because this involves physical changes to our nervous system, it might take some time, much as it takes weeks or months of practice to develop a new physical skill.

Start by pushing yourself a little out of your comfort zone, Dr. Popcak advises, gradually building up to a more affectionate way of interacting with your kids.

 

7 Ways to Practice Physical Affection with Your Kids

Remember, too, that physical affection comes in many different flavors. Here are seven to try with your kids in the coming week:

  1.     Hugs, especially as part of a daily leaving or returning ritual
  2.     Cuddling on the couch
  3.     Gentle back and shoulder massage
  4.     Holding hands
  5.     Tickling, playful wrestling, or piggyback rides
  6.     Hand games (“Miss Mary Mack,” “Say, Say Oh Playmate,” “Stella Ella Ola,” etc.)
  7.     The gentle pressure of a soothing hand

And then, of course, there’s always piojito—the magic touch that soothes, calms, and connects…despite its association with “little lice.”

If you’d like more parenting help, come join our Catholic parenting community on the CatholicHOM app, where you’ll find the CatholicHOM Foundations course, a library of helpful videos and podcasts, and a supportive community of Catholic parents. For more in-depth help with family issues, visit CatholicCounselor.com.

But I don’t want to spoil them!–How to Have a Healthy and Positive Relationship With Your Child

I want to have a good relationship with my kids but I don’t want to spoil them!”

Does this statement feel familiar?

Attachment does not mean that you have to give your children everything they want, when they want it, and how they want it. It means listening to them, taking the time to understand why they want the things they want, and—if you can’t let them—brainstorming more godly and efficient ways that you could help them meet at least some of those needs in the here and now.

Alternatively, if you have to say no, as parents often must, it is always for a good and objective reason (for instance, your child’s safety or well-being) and not just because you don’t feel like it or because you reactively tend to say no to things out of stress and irritability.

In infancy and toddlerhood, fostering healthy attachment means responding promptly, generously, and consistently to cries. It means trusting the schedule God has built into your child for sleeping, feeding, and comforting and not making your child “cry it out” at night, or cry for long periods as a matter of habit during the day. Crying is never good for a child. It always means he needs help in regulating some system in his body (Sunderland, 2008). God gives parents the responsibility to attend to those cries promptly, just as he tells us He does in Psalm 34:4. “I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”

As your child matures through childhood and adolescence, his needs become more complicated to meet. Parents should, as much as possible, use the “qualified-yes” technique in responding to these needs unless the request is for something that is truly contrary to the child’s well-being. For instance, if a child asked for something the parent couldn’t afford, the qualified-yes technique would have the parent say, “I can afford to contribute only X toward that, but let’s talk about ways you might be able to earn the difference if it is that important to you. Otherwise, this is what I can do. What do you think?” This would be as opposed to saying, for instance, “You want me to spend $250 on a pair of sneakers? Are you crazy?”

With the qualified-yes technique, the child learns that the parent is always someone to whom he can turn to get help in meeting his needs or making a plan by which those needs could be met. Because of this, even when the parent can’t supply what the child wants or needs, the child still feels attached because he has been heard and helped to come up with a plan. And, if the child decides that having that thing really isn’t worth the effort after all, it is he who makes that decision, and not the parent who makes himself an obstacle to achieving that need or want.

For more on how to use the qualified-yes technique as a way of fostering attachment through childhood and adolescence, check out our books Parenting Your Kids With Grace and Parenting Your Teens and Tweens With Grace!

 

Quick Links and Resources:

Parenting Your Kids With Grace

Parenting Your Teens and Tweens With Grace

Discovering God Together

God Help Me! My Kids Are Driving Me Nuts—Becoming A More Graceful Parent

Parenting is hard work. And more often than not, just when we think we’re starting to figure it out, our kids enter into a new stage and it feels like we have to start figuring it out all over again! But you’re not alone.

The Theology Of The Body reminds us that families are schools of love and virtue where we all learn to live life as a gift, and that parents are the most important teachers in this school of love.  Parenting is hard, and it’s tempting to settle for just  “getting through the day” with our kids. But Catholic parents are called to do so much more.  The Church tells us that parenting is actually one of the most important ministries in the Church because it is the primary way the next generation of Christian disciples is formed. The world needs loving, responsible, godly people. God has commissioned Catholic parents to give the word what it needs.

That’s a big job! But the more we can approach parenting in a prayerful, thoughtful, intentional, graceful manner, the more we are able to fulfill our mission as Catholics–to let God change the world through our families by raising the next generation of faithful, courageous, loving, responsible, and godly men and women. Of course, none of us know how to do this perfectly. No matter how well we think we were raised by our parents none of us are saints and none of us know how to raise a saint–which is exactly what we’re called to do! We all have a lot to learn!  That’s why, everyday, especially when we’re struggling, we need to turn to our Heavenly Father and pray, “Lord, teach me to be the parent you want me to be–in this moment, and all day, everyday. Help me to respond to my children in ways that will glorify you, help me be my best self, and bring out the best in my kids in every situation. Give me your love and your grace, and let my kids experience your love and grace through me.”

Here are three practical ways to be a more grace filled parent!

1. Remember To Lead–When you’re correcting your kids, only 5% of your energy should be focused on what they did wrong. The other 95% should be focused on leading your children to a better place. Before you correct your kids, ask yourself, “What does my child need to handle this situation better next time?” Put your energy into teaching those skills. Punishments don’t work.  Teaching does. Using techniques like do-overs, role-playing, time-in, cool-downs, and other loving guidance approaches to discipline focus on giving your kids the skills they need to succeed next time–instead of shaming them for failing this time. Lead your children to virtue by showing them a better way to express their emotions, communicate their needs, accomplish their goals, get along with others, and manage their stress. The more energy you put into teaching instead of punishing, the quicker your kids’ behavior will improve overall and the less stressed you’ll be!

2.  Celebrate Success–Tell your kids when they handle a situation well by acknowledging the virtue they displayed. You don’t have to throw a parade–in fact, it’s much better if you don’t–but simple comments like, “That was really responsible.”, “You handled that really respectfully.”,  “That was very generous.” “That was a very loving choice.” and similar comments help kids understand that virtues aren’t just a list of words to memorize, but a practical guide for handling life’s ups and downs with grace. Believe it or not, kids want to be good, and they desperately crave your approval. By remarking on all the ways that exhibiting virtues help them manage their emotions, express their needs, negotiate stressful situations, and get along with others, you are showing your kids that they already have what it takes to do the right thing and you’re making them want to get even better at it. Celebrate your kids’ successful efforts to display virtue by letting them know you saw what they did and that you are proud of them for doing it.

3. Fill the Tank–There is a fuel that drives good behavior. Don’t forget to fill the tank. Both research and generations of wise parents will tell you that extravagant affection is the fuel that makes kids want to behave and try harder to please you. Research shows that affection is actually communication. Taking time to hold your kids close all throughout the day actually helps them reset their heart rate, respiration, body temp and other bodily rhythms when they are feeling stressed, frustrated, angry, anxious, or overwhelmed. Affectionate parents literally incline their children’s hearts to them, and make their kids naturally turn to their parents for guidance and comfort. Yes, you will still need to teach your kids what to do but affection is the fuel that makes correction work.

For more parenting resources, a community of Catholic Parent support, and a team of professionals ready to answer your questions, share in your challenges, and celebrate your parenting wins, join us at CatholicHOM! Online or in your app store!

Also, be sure to check out:

Parenting Your Kids With Grace (Birth to 10)

Parenting Your Teens and Tweens with Grace (11-18)

CatholicHOM

The Ministry of Parenthood

The world makes it tempting to be busy with many things–even various ministries–but The Theology of The Body reminds us that the most basic and fundamental ministry of every Christian person is parenthood. Whether or not we have children, every person was created to nurture others, to use our gifts to help others, and to support each other in becoming everything were created to be. That is what it is to “parent.” 

We’re made in God’s image and likeness and becoming like our Heavenly Father means, first and foremost, mastering the love that stands at the heart of parenthood. Every Christian is first called to be a spiritual parent, using our gifts to bless and build up others. Beyond this, some Christians are called to be biological or adoptive parents too. In either case, parenting isn’t just one ministry among many. According to the Theology of the Body, parenthood is the fundamental ministry from which all other ministry efforts flow.

If we aren’t embracing the fundamental call to motherhood and fatherhood (both spiritual and actual) and constantly striving and praying for God’s grace to be the best mothers and fathers we can be first and foremost, we’ll never have a healthy understanding of masculinity and femininity, relationships in general, God, the Church, or what it means to be a Christian disciple. Doing the work required to be an excellent parent–whether spiritual or actual–is the primary way God helps us heal the wounds that make it hard for us to love others the way He loves us. 

Parenting is hard, but not because kids are tough, or people are hard to deal with. It’s hard because healing is hard. The harder we find parenting the more God is calling us to heal, and the more God is promising to pour his healing grace into our hearts so that we can finally experience all the nurturing love he wants to give us and share that love with everyone who depends on us in any way.

  1. Focus On Skill Building—The primary focus of parenting is healing and skill building—learning and teaching the skills we need to be the people God created us to be. When interacting with others, correcting behavior, or making a change, focus on working with the other person to develop the skills necessary to address the problem at hand. What skills or virtues does that other person (or both of you together) need to increase to address the needs or challenges you’re facing? Focus on building the skills rather than simply correcting or criticizing. 
  1. Make God Your Co-Parent—Remember, we are all God’s children first and foremost, therefore, none of us have all the answers. But God does. In good times and in bad, take a moment and ask God, “Lord, how do you want me to respond to this person in this moment? Help me to love them as you love them.” We are not alone, it is important that we turn to our Heavenly Parent in all things. 
  1. Fill The Tank—Parenting is meant to lead us into closer relationship with others and with God. It’s often our reaction to jump right to correction or assumptions about another person’s behavior. It is important as a parent to put relationship first. To connect before we correct. And to ensure that all of our actions put relationship before rules. 

 

For more on seeking the ministry of parenthood, check out:

Parenting Your Kids With Grace

Parenting Your Teens and Tweens With Grace

The Corporal Works of Mommy

BeDADitudes–8 Ways To Be An Awesome Dad

Having Meaningful (Sometimes Difficult) Conversations with Your Adults Sons & Daughters

Conquer Conflict–How Empathy Can Help Us Be Communication Warriors

When caught in a conflict, the last thing we want to do is be empathetic. Our natural response is often to become defensive, offensive, or to flee from the scene. While these reactions can be effective in getting us away from the original problem, they don’t really help us solve the problem.

So how do we overcome these natural reactions and work through conflict effectively?

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Are you dealing with frustrating people in your life?

Check Out:
God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts!
Making Peace With Difficult People 

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Theology of The Body reminds us that, at all times, we need to treat other people–even people we disagree with or find offensive, obnoxious, or upsetting–as persons.  When we are in conflict, our natural, fallen response is to stop treating our opponent as a person and, instead, see them as an enemy, an idiot, a nuisance, an irritant, or an aggressor.  As soon as we start thinking of someone that way, we indulge our sinful tendency to depersonalize the other–treating them as a thing to be ignored, overpowered, dismissed, or shouted down.  None of these responses are consistent with our call to create communities of love and to treat others as unique and unrepeatable persons deserving of dignity and respect.  So what do we do?  We empathize. Empathy is the quality that allows us to accept that people do things for reasons that make sense to them and that we are obliged to do what we can to understand those reasons.  Empathy does not require us to agree with what the other person thinks, approve of what they are doing, or excuse any offenses.  It simply requires us to assume that–whatever they are doing–there is at least a positive intention or need that is driving their thoughts, words, or actions.  Empathy gives us a starting point for respectful change.  It reminds us that the best defense is not a good offense but rather compassion.  Empathy allows us to be strong enough to encounter someone we disagree with and say, “Help me understand what you are trying to do and then let’s work together to find a respectful way to meet that need.”

Although empathy in conflict is important, it can often be difficult. Here are three steps to effectively cultivating empathy in difficult situations:

1. Let God Be Your Mediator–It often doesn’t occur to us, but it’s tremendously helpful to ask God to mediate our conflicts.  Anytime you feel your temperature rising, remind yourself to “STOP!” Then invite God in with a prayer that goes something like, “Lord, help us to really listen to each other and find ways to take care of each other through our disagreement and find solutions that glorify you.”  Then, take a breath, and solve the problem.  Remember, you are a Christian. That means we invite Christ into all we do.  Don’t handle conflicts on your own.  Ask God for the grace to find peaceful, loving, mutually-satisfying solutions to all the disagreements with the people in your life.

2. Practice Conflict Virtues–When you are dealing with conflict, remind yourself to ask, “What virtues do I need to handle this well?” Patience? Understanding? Consideration? Self-Control?  Assertiveness?  Take a brief moment to identify the virtues or qualities that would help you handle the present disagreement well. If that sounds a little pie-in-the-sky, it isn’t. In fact a recent study found that people who naturally practice what researchers called “virtue based problem solving” do a better job of keeping their cool in conflict, finding effective, objective solutions to conflict, and recovering more quickly from conflict.  Faith and science agree.  Not only is it possible to be more intentional about bringing Christian virtue into disagreements, it’s the key to peace.

3. Treat Resistance as a Message–We have a tendency to treat resistance as stubbornness that has to be overcome by talking even louder..  Avoid this.  Learn to see resistance as communication. When the other person is resistant or reluctant to your ideas or commands, what they are really saying is, “But if I do what you’re asking, how will I get to do this thing that is also important to me?”  If you are getting resistance about your needs or concerns from someone else, don’t get defensive. Instead, stop and say, “Obviously, I need you to take what I’ve said seriously, but what are you trying to tell me that you need?” Then make a plan for meeting that need.  You’ll be amazed how often this causes resistance or even disobedience to evaporate without the power struggle.  Treat resistance as a message.  Identify the need.  Create a solution, and move on.

For more resources for dealing with conflict effectively, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

Building a Better Family

Are you and your family struggling to connect? Does it feel like you’re always on the go and you have no real time to be a family? This is a common occurrence. In a fast paced world, we always have more to do or another fire to put out, but this leaves very little time to fuel our family life in the ways that God intended.

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Looking for more resources on being the family that you’re called to be?

Check out:
Parenting with Grace—The Catholic Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids!

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Theology of The Body (TOB) reminds us that families are schools of love and virtue where we learn how to live life as a gift. Obviously thats a very different vision of family life than the world has, which tends to define family” as any group of people that lives under the same roof and shares a data plan.  God wants more for his families. He wants to use your family to satisfy the longing in your heart for a love that is honest, strong, joyful, warm, and deep. 

So how do we find time to truly connect in the midst of our busy lives? 

1. Create Sacred Moments–Want to celebrate the family life God wants for you?  Then ask him to teach you, together. Cultivate meaningful, daily family prayer times. There are lots of different ways to pray.  Just remember that prayer isnt supposed to be about saying the right words, its about drawing closer to God and each other. When you pray, however you pray, make sure to thank God for the specific ways hes blessed your family that day.  Take turns bringing real concerns to him and asking for his help. Ask for Gods wisdom to respond well to the big questions your family is facing.  Family prayer works best when you stop saying” prayers and start offering your hearts to God in prayer. Thats the kind of prayer that lets grace be the source of the warmth in your home.

2.  Waste Time Together--Want to enjoy a closer, more joyful family life?  As Pope Francis puts it, Waste time with your kids.”  Family life doesnt happen when were busy with many things.  Family life happens in the little moments when we stop doing and start being together.  Make time to be together.  Everyday, make it a priority to take at least 15 minutes to do something fun, to talk about something more meaningful than what happened today”, to work side-by-side on something, and to connect to God.  If you take 15 min to do those 4 things, youre spending an hour a day learning how to love each other better, enjoy each other more, and connect a little deeper.  Wasting time with your family isnt an obligation.  Its a blessing.  Let God bless your family by prioritizing your need to work, talk, pray, and play together, even a little bit, every day.

3. Build Your House–Want to have a stronger, more loving family? Build each other up. Most families dont talk about their relationship unless theyre getting on each others nerves. Gods families deserve better.  Regularly talk about ways you can take better care of each other, and get along better with each other.  At dinner time, talk about virtues like patience, joy, love, respect, responsibility and ask how your family can do a better job living out those qualities. Parenting is no fun if youre just putting out fires all the time. But it gets a lot more enjoyable when youre able to talk together about creating a stronger, more loving more joyful family life.  Make a point of making time to build your home together–instead of just always trying to put out fires.

If you would like more resources for building the family life God intended for you, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Preparing for Lent In A Catholic HOM (Household On Mission)

As we prepare for Lent, we often rely on old habits or patterns. We give up the same thing for Lent or we engage in the same practices each year. Our rituals can become a little too habitual. Sometimes, it’s good to shake things up a bit, especially with regard to how we celebrate lent as a CatholicHOM (Household On Mission).

Specifically, the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life can help connect with the grace of lent to help each family member become a fully formed person—a whole and healthy child of God.

In Pastores Dabo Vobis, (I Will Give You Shepherds) St John Paul described four essential areas requiring special attention in the formation of priests (human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral) but his recommendations don’t just apply to seminaries.  They apply to our homes too! Christian households are meant to help each of us live out the common priesthood we inherit through baptism. Lent gives all of us “common priests” a special opportunity to use the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life, to discover new ways to consecrate the world to Christ by living out Christ’s sacrificial love in all we do.

So how do we use John Paul II’s guidance for priestly formation in our family?

Human Formation – Human formation refers to the lessons we need to learn to be the kind of healthy, holy people whose lives lead others to Christ. Christian families encourage good human formation by mindfully and intentionally practicing specific virtues, working to be more empathic with each other, being good listeners and respectful communicators, being generously affection and affirming, and cultivating the kind of relationships that lead them into deeper communion with each other and  God.  This Lent how will you and your family focus on human formation?

One simple way your family can practice living Christ’s sacrificial love at home is by using the Family Team Exercise – Each morning ask, “What do we need to do to make each other feel taken care of between now and lunch?” At lunch, ask, “What do we need to do to make each other feel taken care of between now and dinner?” Then, at dinner, ask, “What do we need to do to make each other feel taken care of between now and bedtime?” This exercise is a simple way to live out the third practice in the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life’s Rite of Christian Relationship: Offering prompt, generous, consistent and cheerful attention to each other’s needs. It challenges you all to be more thoughtful and generous than you otherwise might be, and shows how generous service leads to a happier, healthier home.

Spiritual Formation – Spiritual formation is all about learning to have a close relationship with God and be a faithful disciple. One of the practices we recommend in the Rite of Family Rituals is a strong family prayer life. By having strong family prayer rituals, families invite  God to be the most important member of their household.

As a family, keep God close all day long through both formal and informal family prayer times. For instance, in addition to regular morning, meal-time, and bedtime prayers, you could pray over our child before a test, game, or important event. You could thank God out loud for the little blessings you experience.  You could ask God’s help before cooking a meal, or helping a child with homework, or having an important conversation with your spouse or child. Likewise, assuming your child is used to receiving blessing from you, don’t forget to ask your child to pray over you when you’re having a tough day. Give your kids the chance to exercise their muscles as budding spiritual warriors!

Using this lent to cultivate stronger family prayer rituals will help you do more to encourage the spiritual formation of the common priests in your household.

Intellectual Formation – Intellectual formation refers to the habits we develop that enable us to  know God better so that we can love him better. In the Rite of Family Rituals, we recommend regular family talk time as one important ritual that can help us achieve this goal at home. By carving out a little time during the day to have meaningful conversations about how our faith and life connect, how God is showing up for us, or how we think he is asking us to respond to the challenges we face, we can foster our family’s ability to grow in our knowledge of God and both the understanding and application of our faith.

Other good Talk Rituals include family reading time, where we can read stories from the bible, or the lives of the saints, or just good books that give us a chance to discuss our values and share how we can live them. Lent is a great time to make time to talk about why we have Stations of the Cross, or what the parts of our celebration of Holy Week mean and how all of our Lenten practices can help us draw closer to God and each other.

Pastoral/Apostolic Formation – Pastoral formation refers to our ability to cultivate compassionate hearts of service to others. The third rite in Liturgy of Domestic Church Life, the Rite of Reaching Out, helps us do this by encouraging us to look for more ways families can serve each other—both at home and in the world. The Rite of Reaching Out is all about reminding us of the importance of leaving people better off than we found them.

This Lent, think about ways your family can do more to serve each other and your community. How can you be more generous to each other at home?  How can you and your family reach out to others in your life and be a witness of God’s love? Perhaps your family could work together to create small care packages for with cards, baked goods, or little gifts and share them with your neighbors/friends. Maybe make one care package each week in Lent for a different friend, relative, or neighbor.

However you choose to develop your relationship with God this Lent, it may be helpful to reflect on these four pillars and how they apply to your family. What areas are your strengths? What areas could use growth? What is one tangible practice you and your family could partake in this Lent to strengthen your Catholic HOM?

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