Transmitting The Faith To Our School-Age Children

Teaching our kids how to pray and helping them develop a relationship with God can feel difficult, especially when we have children of different ages. However, helping our children develop in their faith doesn’t have to be a complicated task. 

Knowing how to foster your school-age child’s faith begins with realizing that kids need different spiritual food at different times.

Faith evolves in different stages through early childhood, middle childhood, adolescence, and throughout adulthood.  School-age kids occupy what’s called the “Mythic-Literal” stage of faith, but we like to call it the “Stories and Rituals Stage”

Throughout middle-childhood, kids’ brains are focused on making sense of the world, figuring out what things mean, and how things work. Rituals and stories are the most important tools kids at this stage use to do that work.

Family rituals, (like regularly recurring times to pray, work, talk, and play together) and parish rituals, (like weekly mass, regular confession, and family involvement in parish activities) are critical for giving your kids a faith-based sense of structure, order, and belonging.  Rituals help kids experience the faith in their bones. Their muscle memory records the activities that create a lifelong sense of belonging to God and his Church.  

In addition to being ritual-hungry, school age kids turn to stories to make sense of the world. Instead of just letting them pick-up passive lessons from the stories they see on tv, movies and social media, make sure you spend time every day actively reading and discussing bible stories, stories of the lives of the saints and others stories that help kids encounter examples of the way our faith can help us make a real, positive difference in the relationships we have with our family, friends, and the world.

School age kids rely on rituals and meaningful stories to help them know who they are, where they come from, and what they are called to be. To feed your school-age kids’ souls, make sure you provide a steady diet of both.

To explore more ways to help your kids fall in love with the faith, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

The Symposium on Catholic Family Life and Spirituality

The Symposium on Catholic Family Life and Spirituality which concluded this past Sunday at Notre Dame was really a tremendous experience. I’d like to offer my sincere thanks to those of you who were praying for the effort. As we have received many inquiries about the event, I thought I would share a few themes that emerged from the various presentations.

Research has shown that parents have much more influence over their children’s future faith than commonly thought, but this influence is more directly related to the quality of relationships in the home than it is to the education or religious practices a family engages in (Bengtson, Bartkus).

The experience of parental warmth–especially paternal warmth–in a religious household is the strongest predictor of parent’s ability to help children own their faith and values into adulthood (Bengtson, Bartkus, Narvaez).

“Articulacy” (i.e., the parent’s ability to present a coherent, personal story of why faith matters to his or her children) is a significant factor in familial faith transmission. This narrative doesn’t need to be theologically sophisticated, but it needs to be personal and meaningful (Bartkus).

Additionally, grandparents are a much more influential force in familial faith transmission than commonly thought (Bengtson, Narvaez). Generational influences of warmth and relationship is a strong indicator for the transmission of faith to younger generations. 

Finally, Christian Family life functions as a liturgy that is (arguably) composed of three “rites” that facilitate development in the priestly, prophetic, and royal missions of baptism (the Rite of Attachment, The Rite of Rituals of Connection, The Rite of Reaching Out, respectively).The degree to which these “rites” are present represents the degree to which a family can effectively function as a “spiritual womb” and “school of love and virtue.”

The entire Symposium was a truly anointed experience. We’ll be posting the videos of all the presentations to the symposium website (CFLSymposium.org) as soon as they are edited, and OSV will be publishing a book/discussion guide for those who are interested in continuing the conversation.

We were pleased to announce the partnership between the Pastoral Solutions Institute and Holy Cross Family Ministries to form the Peyton Institute for Domestic Church Life. The new institute will conduct original research on family spirituality, organize professional trainings and family retreats, and produce initiatives/resources intended to promote the renewal of domestic church life. We are already exploring a major event for family ministers in 2020 to (tentatively) be held at the Peyton Museum of Family Prayer in North Easton, MA.

Thank you for your continued prayers for this effort and stay tuned for more awesome insights from this historic event!

Teaching Kids How To Talk To God

We all want to teach our children to develop their own faith identity and relationship with God, but how do we do it?

For kids to own their faith, the most important thing is to help them experience Jesus Christ in a meaningful, personal way.

The best way to do that is to teach them to talk to God just as they would talk to the person who knows them best and loves them most—because he does. While FORMAL prayer helps give kids a sense of belonging to God’s family, the Church, CONVERSATIONAL prayer helps kids realize that God is interested in having a more personal relationship with them as well.

The best way to encourage your kids to experience God this way is to model conversational prayer for them.  Let them hear you thanking God for little blessings throughout the day, asking for his help, praying—out loud—about your big and small decisions, and inviting him to be a part of your everyday life.

Of course it’s important to teach them how to do the same thing. When they tell you about something good that happens in their day, tell them how proud or happy you are first, but then say, “Let’s thank Jesus for that together.”  Then help them find the words to thank God, out loud, for that blessing.

If your kids are struggling or hurting—physically or emotionally—by all means attend to their boo-boo’s, or encourage them with whatever support you can give first, but then say, “Let’s ask God for his help with this.”  Then help them talk to God about their struggles the exact same way they would talk to anyone else they needed help from.

Show them how to relate to God as if he was right there next to you, listening, just waiting to be invited to be part of the conversation and to help in any way he can–because of course, he is!

To explore more ways to help your kids fall in love with God and their faith, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

Praying With Small Children

Praying with small children can be difficult. They tend to be wiggly and have short attention spans. When little ones are involved, it’s easy for family prayer time to seem more like…Wrestlemania. But you can have a meaningful prayer time with small children if you remember that little people need different spiritual food than bigger people.

Faith develops in different stages from early childhood, to middle childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.  Children around 6 and under are in what’s called the “intuitive-projective” stage of faith. But we like to call it “the cuddly stage.”

In the “cuddly stage” of faith development, children believe something is “true” and good if it FEELS loving, and safe, and friendly.  They believe something is “false” if it FEELS stiff, cold, and unrelatable.

You can focus more on things like prayer-posture and getting prayers “just right” as kids get a little older.  But in the “cuddly faith” stage, the best way to nurture your child’s faith is to make prayer-times–and other experiences with the faith–affectionate, inviting, imaginative, and even playful.

Let your little ones cuddle in your lap when you pray with them. Be affectionate.  As you hold them, concentrate on letting them feel God’s arms around them and letting them feel God’s love filling their hearts through you.  

Sing kid-friendly praise songs together. Use different voices when you read them bible stories or saint stories. Make it fun.

Engage their imagination by asking them to pretend that they were actually in the stories.  You can even act those stories out together!

By understanding the spiritual food that a small child’s faith requires, you can help fill their hunger for God. 

To explore more ways to help your kids fall in love with the faith, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

Does Our Parenting Style Influence Our Child’s Empathy?

Parenting styles can come in many different shapes and sizes, but does how much warmth we show towards our children influence their ability to develop empathy and a positive moral compass?

A new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry evaluated the small differences in parenting practices among 227 identical twins. The researchers for this and subsequent studies included questions such as “I often lose my temper with my child” and “My child knows I love him/her” to determine the amount of harshness or warmth the parent directed towards the child. 

It is often argued that genes are the main determinate of such personality traits in children, however the results of this study showed that parents who demonstrated more warmth towards their child instill traits such as empathy and a moral compass, whereas children who experience harsher parenting are more likely to develop what is called “callous-unemotional” traits which include a lack of empathy, lack of guilt, a shallow affect, and antisocial behaviors. 

So how do we express this type of warmth to our child in order to develop these positive emotional traits?

Warmth can be expressed in both big and small ways such as giving your child a hug when you greet them or say goodbye, especially when you say good morning or goodnight. Setting aside time at the end of each day to reconnect and catch up from the day, sharing the positives and the negatives of every day—showing interest in every aspect of your child’s life, without nagging them or getting into an argument. Think about the times that you feel closest to your child, whether that is baking, taking a walk, reading, or watching your favorite show together, then implement these activities into your daily or weekly schedule.

Not only does sharing this warmth with our child develop positive emotional traits in them, they actually make us as parents feel better and more connected to our child as well!

If you have difficult parenting questions, call in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130—or schedule an appointment with our tele-counseling services by visiting us online at CatholicCounselors.com

Our Kids Might Know More Than We Think They Do

As parents, we often want to protect our children from negative encounters or situations that we experience in our adult lives. But is this the best approach? New research reveals that kids may know more about how we feel than we might think. 

A study conducted at Washington State University Vancouver evaluated mother’s and father’s interactions with their children after experiencing an anxiety inducing event (such as public speaking with negative feedback from the audience). The participants were separated into two groups, one group was told to suppress their emotions in front of their child while the second group was instructed to act naturally. 

After the negative event, the parent’s were given a task to complete with his or her child that required the parent and child to work together as a team. 

The researchers found that the parents who suppressed their emotions had less positive and less efficient encounters with their child than those who acted normally and shared their negative feelings with the child. 

One researcher stated, ““The act of trying to suppress their stress made parents less positive partners during the…task. They offered less guidance, but it wasn’t just the parents who responded. Those kids were less responsive and positive to their parents. It’s almost like the parents were transmitting those emotions.”

Moreover, this study showed that when parents suppress emotions the children became more sensitive to the parents, particularly to their mothers. 

Researcher, Dr. Sara Waters, continued by saying, “Kids are good at picking up subtle cues from emotions. If they feel something negative has happened, and the parents are acting normal and not addressing it, that’s confusing for them. Those are two conflicting messages being sent.”

The results of this study show that it is more beneficial for parents to share their experiences with their children. Allowing children to see the full trajectory—from beginning to resolution—of a conflict teaches children how to regulate their own emotions and learn that problems can get resolved. Waters says, “It’s best to let the kids know you feel angry, and tell them what you’re going to do about it to make the situation better.”

This statement by Dr. Waters demonstrates the parenting technique of Modeling that we discuss in our book Parenting with Grace—The Catholic Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids! 

For more parenting tips and information, check out Parenting with Grace and tune in to More2Life, weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM channel 130!

Stay-At-Home Moms and Depression: 4 Things You Need To Know

Being a stay-at-home parent is hard, but does it cause depression? A recent discussion at Peanut Butter and Grace raised this important issue. It turns out that there is more to this question than meets the eye.

Survey Says…

A 2012 Gallup poll found that 28% of stay-at-home moms (SAHMs) had been diagnosed with depression compared to 17% of employed moms (defined as mothers who have both a full or part time job and children under 18).

Of course, this alone doesn’t necessarily mean SAHMs are more depressed than employed moms.  For instance, it could be that working moms are just as depressed as SAHMs; but, between work and household responsibilities, they just don’t have time to seek professional help.  In fact, a 2015 Pew Research poll found that the majority of working moms continue to be frustrated by the uneven division of labor at home.   As sociologist, Arlie Hochschild observed, working moms often feel that, at the end of the work day, they have to go home to work their “second shift” as a homemaker.   Many working moms are not only depressed, they also don’t have time to do anything about it.

Bridging the Gap:
The Ideal vs. Reality

Regardless, few people would argue that being a SAHM is easy.  And it’s clear that some SAHMs are happier in their role than others.  Similarly, because research shows that kids do better overall when raised by a contented and attentive SAHM than kids raised by either working moms or unhappy SAHM’s, there are certain women would feel they should be home with their kids, but who genuinely struggle to make it work for them.

Is it possible to know which moms will be more likely to find real joy in being an SAHM?  Or, for that matter, if a mom has chosen to stay home, but is struggling with it, are there things she can do to feel better about her choice besides going back to work outside the home?

Here are a few things research can teach us about the circumstances that allow certain women to enjoy being a SAHM, along with some suggestions for those who value the role of being a SAHM but currently find little joy in it. (*See note below)

1. They Are Securely Attached

Research consistently shows that SAHM’s who were raised in affectionate, affirming homes that were stable, emotionally supportive, and employed consistent, gentle discipline are much more likely to enjoy being SAHM’s than less securely-attached women.  The term “attachment” refers to the degree a child has a gut-level sense that she can count on her parents to provide the temporal and emotional support and guidance she needs to thrive.

By contrast, women raised in less emotionally-affirming families-of-origin tend to exhibit either anxious or avoidant attachment.

Anxiously-attached women tend to be extremely scrupulous about their parenting, constantly worrying that every little misstep will ruin their children.  Their constant fear of failure and hypersensitivity to perceived (or actual) criticism makes it hard to truly enjoy anything about being home with their kids.  These SAHMs tend to experience both an extremely high commitment to being a SAHM with very low satisfaction in their role.  Depression can be a symptom of laboring under the constant weight of feeling that they are always wrong, always, failing, and never good-enough no matter how hard they try.

Likewise, avoidantly-attached women raised in unaffectionate, unemotionally supportive families-of-origin tend to struggle to enjoy relationships in general.  Things like giving affection and being nurturing tends not to come naturally to them—and may even grate on them.  They tend to focus on the tasks of motherhood rather than cultivating rewarding relationships with their children. Although every mom gets tired of cleaning a room just to have to clean it again, avoidantly attached moms tend to primarily and almost solely view motherhood as a never-ending mountain of tasks that can never be completed. They may experience depression as a result of never being able to feel that they have accomplished anything.

WHAT TO DO: If you struggle in this area, the good news is that there is such a thing as “earned secure” attachment.  Anxiously attached women can learn to stop beating up on themselves, and avoidantly attached women can learn to enjoy being human beings rather than human doings. Books like Dr. Tim Clinton’s Attachments: Why You Love Feel and Act the Way You Do or Dr. Amir Levine’s Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment are good places to start seeking healing. Professional counseling can also offer tremendous assistance in healing attachment wounds.

2. They Chose It

It is difficult to feel good about something that was forced on you.  Research shows that mothers who feel obliged to be SAHM’s primarily because of social pressure, or poor alternative child-care options, or other reasons, are more resentful of their role and more inclined to depression as a result.

 By contrast, mothers who choose to be SAHM’s primarily because they see, not just intellectual or practical value in the role, but also emotional value in nurturing a deep relational connection with their children, creating meaningful family experiences, and maintaining a cozy home are much more likely to experience real joy in their role.

WHAT TO DO:  In psychology, an external control fallacy is the mistaken belief that I am a helpless victim of my circumstances.  This unhealthy thinking pattern makes us passive-aggressively push back against our “fate,” causing us to “phone in” our effort which, in turn, leads to a sense that nothing matters, nothing is enjoyable, and I can do nothing to make my life more meaningful.  Anyone can fall into this trap, but avoidantly-attached moms are particular prone to this tendency.

There may well be compelling, practical reasons for being home with your children, but don’t ever let that stop you from bringing your creativity, your intelligence, and your whole self to the roles you choose to play—whatever they are!  Happy moms don’t always love every part of parenting, but they make sure to put their own stamp on what they do and the way they do it.  Even when they are struggling to find the energy to do it, they treat homemaking and child-rearing as worthwhile professions that they are committed to being accomplished at and taking joy in.    Research on burnout shows that when we feel uninspired by our work and roles, one key to recovery is making ourselves learn new ways to do what we feel are the “same old things.”  Each morning, ask yourself, “How will I create meaning, joy, and connection today?” Make these goals your priority, and resist the urge to simply coast through the day doing as little as possible, and doing it the same old way you always do. Books like Overcoming Passive-Aggression by Dr. Tim Murphy and The Corporal Works of Mommy (and Daddy Too!) by Lisa and Greg Popcak can be a huge help in these areas.  Counseling can also be a great help for reclaiming your sense of competence and creativity.

3.  They have supportive, involved husbands 

(and other supportive relationships).

A recent Today survey found that 46% of moms find their relationship with their husband more stressful than their relationship with their children.  These moms complained of critical, unhelpful, husbands who were poor helpmates around the house, disengaged fathers, and demanding spouses.

Happy SAHMs have husbands who are vocal about their support and praise for the work their SAHM wives do, are active helpers around the house, effective disciplinarians with the children, and engaged dads. Research by the Gottman Relationship Institute also shows that husbands of happy SAHM’s exhibit strong emotional intelligence; that is, they demonstrate both the ability to genuinely value and appreciate her perspective (even when they don’t agree) and an openness to respecting and learning from her expertise (as opposed to just going along to get along).

Happy SAHMs also do what they can to cultivate other supportive friendships, but it is important to note that having supportive friendships does not tend to make up for having an unsupportive spouse in terms of the risk of depression for SAHMs.

WHAT TO DO:  Know that you have a right to the support you need from your husband to be a great mom. If your husband is a greater source of stress than your kids, seek marriage help today.  Go to Retrouvaille.  Seek professional, marriage-friendly counseling.  If you were sick, you wouldn’t ask permission to go to the doctor.  Your husband doesn’t have to agree that you need counseling (in fact, he won’t if the current arrangement is “working” for him).  Talk to him about it, but whether he wants to or not, make the appointment.  Let him know you’re going with him or without him and you’d prefer he be part of the changes that are coming.  Get the help you need to have the husband you deserve and give your kids the father they need.

4. They Can Meet Their Needs.

Happy SAHMs  feel confident in their ability to meet their personal, financial and other needs—both on their own and with the support of the people in their life.  They are confident in their right to say to their husband, “Honey, I need your help with X.” whether that involves getting a shower in the morning, getting help with a discipline issue, getting assistance with household chores, or any other temporal, financial, emotional, relational, or spiritual need they have—and they are confident that such help will be forthcoming.

If their needs are not being met, they see it as a problem that must be solved, not as a trial that must be endured.  Silently.  With much sighing and hand-wringing because they dare to even have needs much less hope that one day they might be met. Depression can result from the accumulation of unmet needs and the hopelessness of ever being seen as anything but a vending machine.  Anyone can fall prey to this habit, but anxiously-attached moms are particularly prone to this tendency.

It is admittedly difficult to find the healthy balance that allows you to attend your children’s needs, your spouse’s needs and your own needs, but happy SAHMs see this as a challenge, not as an impossible dream.  They use their creativity, assertiveness, and intelligence to find ways to achieve balance, gather new tools, and get the support they need to get their needs met.  They work hard to avoid polarized thinking; acting like they have to constantly choose between meeting their needs or anyone else’s.  They recognize the challenges involved in maintaining good self-care, but see it as a task the requires ongoing collaboration and communication with their husband and children.

WHAT TO DO:  Stop assuming that you are supposed to be a super-hero who is not allowed to have or express your needs much less expect that they should be met.  On the days you spontaneously feel even slightly more connected to your “best self” write down the things that happened that made this possible.  Did you get more rest?  Exercise? Time to pray?  Did you do something enjoyable? Pace yourself differently?  Prioritize your relationships over certain tasks?  These are needs.  Prioritize them.  Talk with your husband and (to the degree that it is appropriate) your children, about how you can all work together to make these things happen on a regular basis.  If your spouse or family are either not receptive or hostile to this idea, seek professional help immediately.  This is an unhealthy dynamic that will undermine your mental health and the stability of your marriage and family if it is allowed to continue.

One book that can help you do a better job of identifying your needs and finding the balance that allows you to be a healthy, fulfilled SAHM is Then Comes Baby: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood by Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak.  And, as above, counseling can be a great help to developing these skills.

Bringing it Home

No doubt you can think of many other challenges that make the life of the SAHM a challenge, but chances are, most of these other things fit into one of the above categories.

The more you have the skills and resources associated with the above four categories, the more likely you will naturally be able to find real joy and meaning in your role as a SAHM.  By contrast, the more you oppressed (or depressed) you feel by your role as an SAHM, the more likely it is that you are missing some or all of the above.

No one can force you to be a SAHM.  If you genuinely don’t want to do it, you are certainly free to do something else.  There are many paths. But if there is any part of you that values the idea of being an SAHM, regardless of your personality or circumstances, you can find greater fulfillment if you commit to getting the resources you need to find meaning and joy in your role.  It might take time, and it might take a little more effort than you thought it might, but your happiness and wellbeing–and the happiness and wellbeing of your family—is absolutely worth it.

To discover more resources to help you be a happy, healthy, fulfilled mom, including professional, Catholic tele-counseling services, visit me at CatholicCounselors.com

*NOTE:  Presumably, all of the above information applies to stay-at-home-dads as well. My experience in counseling SAHDs over the years certainly suggests this to be the case. Unfortunately, there is currently not enough research on SAHD’s to be able to draw definitive conclusions.

Faithful Families, Faithful Kids—What It Takes to Raise Children to Own Their Faith

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According to recent research, 74% of surveyed adults said that they left Catholicism between the ages of 10 and 20 years old. With these harsh statistics, we might wonder if there is anything parents can do to effectively and joyfully raise our kids to be the next generation of faithful Catholics. The good news is, we can.

Theology of the Body reminds us that family life is the school of love and virtue, it is where we learn and practice all the qualities that help us live life as a gift. As parents, if we want to raise faithful kids, we need to do more than just take them to church, send them to Catholic schools, or teach them facts about faith and morals. We need to lead them into a meaningful, personal, relationship with Our Lord. Our children need to encounter Jesus as another member of the family–the most important member of the family who is the source of the warmth and love in our home. We need to show our children that Christ is not just present at Church or even just in family prayer time, but that he is present at the heart of mealtimes, family rituals, that we recognize him as the source of our blessings and the source of our strength in challenging times. And we need to show them how to develop a meaningful, personal prayer life that allows them to have a real encounter with God’s love. It’s a tall order, but God gives us the grace to do it. It all begins with asking God to help us be the parents our children need us to be and to help then encounter his love in their relationship with us.

Here are three More2Life Hacks for raising faithful kids:

Be A Disciple—A study by Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) demonstrated that over 90% of Catholic parents pray individually, but only 17% of Catholic parents pray with their kids. Raising faithful kids means showing them how to encounter Christ in a personal way, and that means discipling them to have a personal prayer life.  How can you do that?  At least once a day, sit down with your kids. Teach them to close their eyes, to see Jesus, and to talk to him like they would talk to the person that knows them best and loves them the most. Help them thank God for the good things that happened that day. Teach them how to ask God for help with the challenges of their day. Remind them to pray for others, and help them ask God for the grace to become the loving, graceful people he created them to be. Let them imagine God holding them close in his arms, and have them tell God they love him.  Just 10 minutes a day can give your kids a lifelong, meaningful relationship with Christ.

Give Your Kids A Mission–Raising caring kids means helping them see that they are on a mission to use every moment as an opportunity to become the person God is calling them to be.  Ask your kids to think about the qualities they want to be known for: responsible, thoughtful, loving, joyful, etc. Lead them in praying that God would help them find opportunities each day to exhibit those qualities with friends, family, and in their responsibilities.  Finally, each day–at dinner or bedtime–ask them to share examples of when they tried to live those qualities out. Ask them to think about opportunities they might have to exhibit those qualities at home or in school tomorrow.  Teach them to remember that God wants to use them to make a difference in the lives of those around him and give them a chance to reflect on the ways God is using them to show his love to the world.

Make God A Member of the Family–Create strong family rituals like family meals, game night, family days, family meetings, celebrations and other times like this, AND INVITE GOD TO PARTICIPATE.  Start your times together with a brief prayer.  Thank God for the love you have in your home.  Ask him for the grace to love each other even better.  Ask him to bless this time you are spending with each other and to be present to you as you work, play, talk, and pray as a family. In the presence of your kids, acknowledge that God is responsible for togetherness you feel and that he is constantly working to draw each of you closer to each other, and to him.  Make God a member of the day-to-day life of your family, and let him be the source of the warmth in your home.

For more tips on how you can raise faithful kids, pick up a copy of Discovering God Together and tune in to More2Life—10am E/9 am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 139.

Frustrated With Your Kids? – 3 Tips for More Joyful, Effective Parenting

shutterstock_390805201Parenting is a tough job. Kids really know how to push our buttons.  Often, we just feel lucky if we can make it through the day losing our minds.  The good news is that there is a way to reclaim your sanity as a parent, to get a handle on all the chaos, get your kids to listen, and start to enjoy your role as a parent.  Honest!

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. Catholic parents are empowered through God’s grace in the sacrament of marriage to do more than just “get through the day” with our kids. The world needs loving, responsible, godly people and God asks his faithful couples to give the word what it needs. The more we can approach parenting in a 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. It’s a tough job, but God gives us the grace to do it.

Want to be a more joyful, grace-filled parent?  Start practicing the following tips today.

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 (i.e. bringing your child to you to help him or her calm down), 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!

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.

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 information on how you can practice graceful parenting, check out Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids! and make sure to tune in to More2Life — Monday-Friday 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 139.

Parenting in the Age of Weinstein

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Almost every day, new allegations of sexual harassment are in the headlines. The #metoo campaign has exposed the abusive behavior of power-brokers in Hollywood and DC helped victims, who have been silenced for too long, find their voices again.

One parent, despairing at the onslaught of depressing headlines and salacious stories recently asked me, “What can we do to raise boys not to act like this?  How can we protect our girls from a culture like this?”  While we can never control every variable, the truth is that parents can do a lot to raise young men who can be respectful of women and young women who know how they deserve to be treated.  Interestingly, the answer to both questions involves the same two things.

Attend to Attachment

Research consistently shows that a child’s attachment style predicts both how likely a child is to victimize others as he or she grows up as well as how likely it is that a child will be able to set appropriate boundaries with those who try to hurt them.

There are three basic attachment styles (secure, anxious, and avoidant) that determine a child’s basic sense of how they should both treat others and expect to be treated by others. Which attachment style a particular child develops is determined by how promptly, generously, and consistently his or her parents respond to the child’s emotional needs.

Securelyattached children are raised by parents who are generous with affection, employ gentle discipline that teaches good behavior instead of merely punishing bad behavior, encourage healthy emotional expression, and model the healthy give-and-take involved in loving relationships.  Securely attached children are naturally empathic, and are naturally repulsed by the idea of using or hurting another person.  They also have a gut-level sense of when they are not being treated properly and so are much more likely to sense and avoid dangerous situations, set boundaries early when someone tries to take advantage of them, and be confident about seeking help when they feel like they are in over their heads.

Anxiously-attached children are raised by parents who tend to be conditional about giving affection and praise, tend to use harsh, emotionally-driven discipline that blames rather than teaches, and tend to be too distracted by their own problems to consistently respond to the child’s emotional needs.  This child grows up feeling like it is their job to make other people meet their needs and it is their fault when other people don’t treat them well.  As adults, anxiously attached children often have a hard time recognizing unhealthy relationships. They tend not to notice that others are treating them badly until its gone too far.  And then, when they do notice, they tend to blame themselves, thinking they somehow caused the problem or even deserve the poor treatment.  This makes it difficult for them to set limits, or seek help.

Avoidantly-attached children are raised by parents who are unaffectionate and emotionally shut-off, tend to use heavy-handed approaches to discipline, and tend to leave children to themselves.  Avoidantly attached children grow up to become adults who, because they have never been taught to connect emotionally or spiritually with others, over-emphasize the importance of sex.  The more seriously avoidant a child’s attachment style is, the more likely that child will be a bully, a sex-addict, or, in the extreme, a sociopath who takes joy in hurting others.

If you want to raise a child who knows how to treat others well and knows how he or she deserves to be treated, the most important thing you can do is teach your child what a healthy relationship looks like by engaging in those practices that promote secure attachment.

LOVE VS. USE

The second most important thing a parent can do to raise children who know how to treat others well and know how they deserve to be treated is to teach kids, from an early age, that everything we do to another person is either ordered toward loving them or using them. When we are affectionate and respectful, when we do things to build them up, or look for ways to make their lives easier or more pleasant, we love others and help them become the persons they are meant to be.  By contrast, when we disregard others, when we are critical, mean, or derogatory, when we use people as a means to some end, or act in ways that say we don’t care about what they are going through, we treat people as things to be used, abused, or neglected.

A Catholics, we believe that the only appropriate response to another person is love, never use.  Children as young as 4 or 5 can understand the difference between love and use in relationships.

Parents who foster healthy attachment and teach their child the difference between loving and using another person from the earliest days not only are prone to raise healthy kids.  They strike a blow against a culture that sees people as objects and relationships as exchanges where the powerful use the less powerful as a means to their selfish ends.

Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of many books including Beyond the Bids and the Bees: The Catholic Guide to Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids.  Visit him at www.CatholicCounselors.com