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Get Your Children Outside to Play

Get Your Children Outside to Play

A few weeks ago, on a beautiful fall day, my boys and I biked to a local park to play basketball and climb around on the jungle gym. There were other children also outside and I noticed three boys, about 10 or 11, were huddling around each other staring at a cell phone. They were engrossed. As my boys and I played, these older kids remained hunched over this electronic device for at least another thirty minutes. 

This is not what playing outside should look like.

I grew up spending a lot of time outside. I was usually with my sisters or friends, but as I got a older I would occasionally be alone. We would swim, ride our bikes, skateboard, jump on a trampoline, play football, basketball, or capture the flag. We would hike in the creek, build forts, and climb trees. We spent thousands of hours playing outside. 

Kids need to be outside, to play, to run, to explore. As a father of two boys, I know this, but sometimes forget. This fall, I was reminded of how beneficial it is for my kids to regularly play outside. Over the course of a few weeks we hiked, biked, played sports, camped, and experienced some natural wonders. It was tremendously joyful for all of us. As a result, we all slept better, ate better, and were generally in a better mood.

Kids need space to run and explore. Inside they have physical boundaries and limitations. Outside they are free to move their bodies with speed and strength. They can push themselves. Outside, they can touch and break most things without much consequence. Inside the house can feel like a museum filled with crystal vases for a young boy full of energy.

The progress of science has demonstrated many benefits to spending more time being active outside. Daily active play for children improves overall health. There are mental benefits from spending time in nature such as taking a hike in the woods. Moderated heat and cold stress both active different pathways benefiting overall health. Exposure to outside light improves vitamin D levels and helps align us to a healthy circadian rhythm. 

When kids are outside you get to ask them these questions:

  • Want to pick up that stick and break it?  
  • Want to climb on that rock?
  • And jump off? 
  • Want to run and yell?
  • Want to goof off with your friends?
  • Want to jump in that puddle?

Do it! What’s the worst that can happen? Your children may get some bumps and bruises and their feelings may get hurt from time to time. They’ll likely get dirty and occasionally ruin some clothes. A few band aids, some soap, and a home cooked dinner can remedy most mishaps that happen outside.

Inside our house the conversation often goes like this:

  • Stop running!
  • Don’t jump on the furniture!
  • Use your inside voice!
  • Be careful!
  • That could break!

Our world has become too sanitized and controlled. Children benefit from dirt and discomfort. Fortunately, nature provides both.

Our children need to play outside more. Their schedules should allow for regular outdoor play time. The rain, cold, or heat shouldn’t stop them. Kids need to be able to just be kids and being outside is their natural habitat to do so. 

Therefore, go buy your children some boots, open the door, and let them be themselves.

The Power of Saying No

The Power of Saying No

We face many obstacles in life. Some of them are because of over-abundance. We have too much to eat, too many activities, too many distractions, too much work. These become obstacles and we end up stressed, un-healthy, and unproductive. To overcome this obstacle in our lives we must learn to limit what we let into our lives. One of the best ways we can limit what comes into lives is to just say no.

We heard the mantra in the 80’s, just say no, but often we subtly have been encouraged to say yes to a lot of good things in our lives. We are expected to say yes to the extra project at work, even if we’re already busy and stressed out. We were told to clear our dinner plates, even if we weren’t hungry. We were told to do all of the extra-curricular activities we could so that we were well-rounded.

While sometimes this advice isn’t necessarily wrong, a ubiquitous habit of saying yes to all of those things can lead to being overwhelmed. Too much of a good thing can be bad.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. We have limits, strengths, and weaknesses.  We literally can’t do and be it all.  As I’ve stated previously, we have so many options in this world now that we need to barriers to self-limit those choices. We need to regulate our lives and choices first and foremost by learning the power of saying no.

These endless options in life are truly amazing and many folks before would have dreamed to have them in their life. I love my freedom of choice, please don’t get me wrong. But these endless choices can be harmful if they are not managed properly.

Therefore, we need to learn the power of saying no to ourselves, others, and our children to help establish some healthy boundaries and really allow ourselves to flourish.


Saying No to Yourself

Learning to say not to yourself is a form of self-discipline. It’s a habit that needs to be exercised to form. Charles Duhigg has an excellent book, The Power of Habit, that discusses how habits can be formed and shaped.

Ourselves are often bigger obstacles than any external factors. Our ego, lack of discipline, and our emotions all contribute to our in-ability to say no.

We need to have healthy boundaries with many things in our lives that can easily be overabundant. This could include food, exercise, work, and sharing with others. All of those things are necessary but too much can be poisonous. This is where we need to learn to say no to ourselves develop some limits. Most of those are internal struggles we face everyday.


Saying No to Others

We have a strong tendency to want to make people happy. We desire to be accepted, welcomed, and part of the in-crowd. This can lead us to say yes more often than we should.

When I was in my 20s and early 30s, I used to play a decent amount of live music in the evenings and weekends while in college and as a young working professional. I used to get asked to fill in on gigs at bars or churches at the last minute when some other musician couldn’t perform. At first I used to love saying yes because it meant that I was wanted and desired. I was a go-to player with certain artists and it felt wonderful to be sought after. I also really enjoyed a lot of the music and performances.

But, it often wrecked me personally. It takes a lot of time and energy to learn an entire show’s worth of material on short notice. Therefore, when I said yes to these gigs, the rest of my personal life would feel the negative impact. I wouldn’t have as much focus and energy at my job. My diet and sleep would suffer, and my exercise would cease to exist until the show was over and I recovered. It would also take away precious time with my wife as night after night I would disappear in the basement to rehearse.

When I learned to see the actual sacrifice a new gig would require is when I learned the power of saying no to others. I have carried this powerful lesson over to many different areas of my life for the better.


Saying No to Your Children

We must learn to say no to our children. If we don’t, we won’t be preparing them for the real world when they’re teachers, friends, bosses, and clients start telling them no and they don’t know how to handle it.

We know without a doubt that an over-abundance of many things is not good for our children. Whether, it’s TV, sweets, junk food, staying up late, we need to set firm boundaries for them because they are not yet equipped to do it on their own. This is for their own good, though they don’t see it that way yet.

Young children learn very quickly how to be persuasive to get what they want. This includes temper tantrums, acting out, and calling you names. We are often tempted to give in and say yes just to get them to stop crying or screaming in the moment. This often is when they want to watch more TV, have another dessert, or buy a toy at the store. Consistently saying no and sticking to it is one of the more challenging tasks as a parent, but I have found that it is also the building blocks of establishing our authority and shaping their character. Let’s face it, life as an adult is often hard and full of not getting what we want. We have a duty to prepare our children to understand this reality.

So, in our life of abundance, where we have seemingly endless options, we need to set boundaries for ourselves, others, and our children.  And the best way to set boundaries and limits in our lives is to learn the power of saying no.

Why We Need to Praise Children Regularly for their Good Behavior

Why We Need to Praise Children Regularly for their Good Behavior

Molding our children’s character requires continual development of new parenting techniques. But one technique stands out: we need to praise our children’s good behavior and character regularly.

We all want to belong, to be affirmed, and to be recognized for contributing. This is true for babies as well as my employees who are in their 50’s. Praise and recognition are great motivators for all, and they will help shape our children’s character.

After almost 5 years as a parent, I believe that the carrot and stick both play an important role in molding character, but I try to always start first with the carrot. The carrot is a symbol of a reward for positive behavior, i.e. praise or a sweet treat, while the stick is punishment for negative behavior.

Here is an example of how the stick technique did not work, but the carrot technique did. It occurred at dinner time with our oldest son. About the time he turned four, he started a combination of bad behavior. He started to routinely say potty words at the dinner table, get out of his chair without permission, and just refused to eat anything on his plate unless he successfully negotiated a cookie or ice cream first.

When it’s the end of the day, and you’re tired from work, it can be a challenging time to have the patience required to coach your children. When you’re hungry and your warm dinner is under your nose, it becomes doubly challenging for me to retain a calm demeanor.

We at first tried the punishment, such as time-outs and taking his buddies away, but this was not working. The bad behavior was becoming routine. We did not want to create a continual habit of taking away his favorite buddy either.

Now we try to reserve the stick for when my oldest son hurts his younger brother or other kids, is repeatedly disrespectful, or makes dangerous choices. To use the stick technique effectively we realized quickly that we had to find his currency, or in other words, what would potentially make him upset enough to modify his behavior. While repeated instructions and yelling were not always effective, we found that time-outs and taking away his favorite stuffed animals or toys caught his attention most of the time.

So, in lieu of the stick technique, we got creative and tried a “good choices” chart. This is where we draw a star whenever he makes a good choice on a piece of paper we kept on the refrigerator. Then, after so many stars on the chart he got different rewards such as a Hershey Kiss or a cookie. A lot of stars grants him prized iPad time. We celebrate it, and make a big deal of this.

Examples of what good choices that earn a star are:

  • doing something nice for someone else
  • doing your chores the first time you’re asked
  • eating your fruits and vegetables the first time you’re asked
  • regularly using your manners without being reminded.

This works. Not all the time, but some of the time, and to us that was a success. In general, our 4-year-old got better at dinner time, and since then, we keep trying to find new ways to keep encouraging that good behavior.

The praise we’ve been giving him aloud allows his worthiness and positive contribution to get recognized within our house. This will have a lasting impact on his self-esteem, as well as his behavior.

The chart and this regular praise also did something that I wasn’t expecting quite yet at his age. After months and months of using the chart, I now see him light up when he makes a good choice. He holds his head high, his shoulders back and has a genuine proud smile. Even if he thinks no one is looking. This routine praise is now shaping how he makes decisions.

Just recently both boys and I were in the backyard. They were playing nearby while I was doing yardwork. Our 2-year-old was pushing a toy wheel barrow full of dirt, and he kept getting it stuck when he tried to push it up onto the sidewalk. Our 4-year-old saw this and quickly ran over and joyfully said, “I will help you, brother!” He then easily picked up the wheel barrow, set it up on the sidewalk and went back to playing with his toys.

I pretended not to see it but watched out of the corner of my eye. He wasn’t doing it for a star on the chart or to get noticed. Afterwards, you could sense his pride and happiness after helping his brother, and it didn’t even cross him mind to look for recognition.

This is the character we all hope to find in our children, and we can encourage and support it by regularly and sincerely praising our children.