Tag Archive for: Parenting

My husband and I had a little argument last week. It wasn’t a big deal, just one of those everyday disagreements. But you know what? Our four-year-old reacted in a surprising way.

He saw us arguing and got upset. So upset, in fact, that he pretended to punch my husband. When we asked him what was going on he said, “You two fighting makes me angry, and I want to fight. I choose Mom’s side. Attack Dad!” While I was slightly honored that he chose to defend me, it got me thinking about how our arguments affect our kids.

Experts have talked about this for a long time. They say that when parents argue in front of their kids, it can make the kids internalize the conflict.

A study done by the Journal of Family Psychology followed over 200 families for ten years. Guess what they found?

Kids who saw their parents argue a lot were more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and behavioral issues later in life. And it didn’t matter if the arguments got resolved or not. What mattered was how often and how intensely the parents argued.

Arguing at home can even make it hard for kids to do well in school. There was another study in the Journal of Child Development that found kids who hear their parents argue a lot have trouble paying attention in school. The stress caused by conflict between parents can make it harder for children to focus, absorb information, and give their full effort.

Here’s another thing: kids learn from their parents.

If parents yell or call names when they argue, their kids are likely to do the same. That’s what this famous psychologist called Dr. John Gottman says. He calls it “the conflict blueprint.” Basically, kids copy what they see their parents doing.

But it’s not all bad news. Parents can do things to make it better. First off, they need to realize that their arguments affect their kids. So, it’s important to try to solve arguments without shouting or fighting. Sometimes, talking to a professional can help, like going to therapy or taking parenting or marriage classes.

Making home a safe and happy place can help kids feel more secure. Spending time together as a family, talking openly, and making sure kids know they’re loved can all help. And if you think your arguments have already hurt your kids, it’s okay to talk to them about it. When a child feels tension between parents, they’ll internalize their emotions and often blame themselves. This is normal for children and should encourage parents to reach out to them with curiosity and reassure them of the love and safety in the family. 

As parents, we are role models for our kids. So, it’s important to be kind and respectful, even when we disagree. By doing that, we can help our kids grow up happy and healthy.

“Momma, when you die and I don’t have a Momma anymore, can I go live with Nana and Poppy?” my four-year-old asked nonchalantly last Saturday.

“Well, if anything happens to me and your dad, you can certainly live with Nana and Poppy. What made you ask that question, bug?” I said blindsided.

“People die. And, I know you’re gonna die and live with Jesus. So. I just want to have someone to live with, too,” he responded. Then, he ran outside and started digging in the dirt with his dump trucks.

I was in shock from the conversation. What was going on in his little mind? Where did that question come from?

My husband reminded me that our son has attended four funerals in his short four years of life– three great grandmothers and a great aunt. That’s a lot of death to unpack. I also learned he overheard a conversation about the tragic shootings and deaths of 3 adults and 3 children at the Covenant School in Nashville a few weeks ago.

As a parent, I want to protect my son at all costs.

I want to keep him from having to deal with the hard, unfair and cruel injustices of this world. But, the truth is, avoiding difficult conversations and shielding him in an effort to preserve his innocence does more harm than good in the long run.

The American Psychological Association (APA) released a statement earlier this year encouraging parents to have hard conversations with young children: 

“Taking a proactive stance and discussing difficult events and topics in age-appropriate language can help a child feel safer and more secure. If adults don’t talk to them about it, a child may overestimate what is wrong or misunderstand adults’ silence. So, be the first to bring up the difficult topic. When parents tackle difficult conversations, they let their children know that they are available and supportive.”

While this statement is empowering, sitting down and having these conversations can be stressful. How do you define age appropriate language? What if you don’t have all the answers to the questions they ask?

Here are a few things to remember when these hard conversations happen:

1: If you can, practice ahead of time.

When a tragic event occurs, try to be the person your child hears it from first. Decide what you’re going to share, how you’re going to share it, and most importantly, when the best time is to have the conversation.

2: Timing is everything.

Choose a quiet place to sit with your child one-on-one and look them in the eyes. Avoid having hard conversations when you’re busy making dinner or when your child is playing. The conversation at hand should be the center of both your attention.

3: Ask them what they already know.

“There was a shooting at a school. What do you know about this?” And then listen, listen, and listen more.

4: Tell them how you feel.

Sharing your emotions with your child allows them to create a deeper connection with you. It’s also a great opportunity to model behavior and emotional regulation for them.

5: Stick to the facts and avoid details.

Tell them the outline of what happened. There’s no need to share gory details or show gruesome graphics. 

As a parent, the greatest thing you can do for your child is build a deep connection with them. No matter how hard we try, we can’t control them or the world around them. Having hard conversations when they’re young allows them to see you as a safe, wise and trusted source for a lifetime.

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Photo by Jonas Kakaroto on Unsplash

As the CEO of a nonprofit organization, I often find myself in a room with a variety of community leaders and decision makers. As the mom of a preschooler, I often find myself surrounded by parents of young children. In both kinds of gatherings, education regularly becomes a loud, boisterous and sometimes hostile conversation. Opinions and ideas fly out of mouths like daggers.

“Homeschool is the only way to go.”

“The public education system isn’t all flawed, the teachers are under-resourced.” 

“Private school solves every problem.”

Do a quick Google search of “How to help children in their education.” You’ll find thousands of articles focused on helping elementary aged children read, use their creativity and build their focus. The common thread pulling these articles together? They’re written to parents who are looking to be more engaged with their child’s education at home, outside of a classroom’s four walls.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), when elementary age students have involved and engaged parents, they are more likely to: 

  • Earn higher grades and test scores
  • Graduate from high school and attend post-secondary education
  • Develop self-confidence and motivation 
  • Have better social skills and behavior

These children are also less likely to:

  • Suffer from low self-esteem
  • Require redirection
  • Develop behavioral issues
  • Make poor decisions

Digging deeper into the research, children achieve more when their parents are engaged regardless of whether they attend a public or private school or are homeschooled. 

With this in mind, please note, I’m not trying to start an education debate. Every child learns differently, every family has different ideals and access to resources, and every educational environment carries its own influential factors.

But, are we asking the right questions?

Whose responsibility is it to make sure children are learning well and receiving the education they need to thrive in society? Going back to the research, parental involvement bears great influence on a child’s educational outcomes. Knowing this, how is our community as a whole supporting students and their parents/caregivers in the educational process?

These questions go beyond the public system, the private schools and the homeschool groups. It involves every aspect of the community– from nonprofit organizations and churches to government agencies and every sector of business. 

Parents’ and caregivers’ responsibility doesn’t end when they choose a school or educational path for their child.

If we truly want to nurture the next generation and provide equal opportunities for all, compassion and support must be provided to parents and caregivers across the board. This investment means success for our entire community.

Let me be the first to say, I don’t have all the answers. Education in and of itself is complex and each situation is different. There are many opinions and experiences that color the educational debate. Regardless of where you stand, there’s no denying the need for parental engagement in the lives of children. 

Helen Keller wrote, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

Are we willing to work together toward holistic solutions for the good of the children in our community? Or will we inadvertently build walls of division and create obstacles for opportunity?

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Note: If you’re a parent or caregiver in search of assistance in connecting with your child, First Things First has FREE one-on-one coaching resources to guide you on your journey. Go to FirstThings.org/Coaching or email us at [email protected] to learn more.

For the last seven years, I’ve had the pleasure of working for First Things First, Inc. (FTF).

We’re a non-profit dedicated to helping every family have healthy relationship skills to pass down from generation to generation. I’ve served in several roles at FTF, but for the last twelve months, I’ve been honored to serve as President and CEO. 

This is my first of many articles to be published in this column for The Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Mitchell Qualls, our Vice President of Operations, is handing me the baton. I will continue to share research-based relationship skills and best family practices with you. I’m so grateful for the dedication and exceptional content Mitchell created over the last two years. I know many families in our community have been encouraged and empowered through his writing.

So, here we are in another time of transition.

A different byline will appear in this column. A new season is approaching. The holidays and the hustle and bustle are right around the corner. If there’s one thing that’s certain to stay the same in life, it’s change.

I’m thirty-two years old, I’ve been married to my husband Daniel for almost nine years, and we have a sweet, rambunctious three-year-old named Strider. At least once a week, my husband and I talk about what we can do to create a more consistent schedule. We’re convinced consistency will make daily life easier and make everything fall into place.

But the truth is, no matter how well we plan, we can always expect change.

We can’t prohibit the flu from taking over our household. We can’t keep the tree from falling down in our yard during a storm. We can’t stop mechanical issues from happening in our car. As much as we might wish it wasn’t true, change is here to stay.

However, we can choose how we support each other when change inevitably occurs.

In 2021, Cleveland Health Clinic reported people experience increased stress symptoms when going through change, and these symptoms increase the more change we encounter.

So, we’ve already determined change is inevitable, and now we know stress is also unavoidable. What’s the solution if we can’t avoid it?

A 2017 research article published in the Innovation in Aging journal through Oxford University Press revealed healthy family relationships can limit stress, increase the production of mood-boosting chemicals in your brain, and create a sense of belonging and unconditional love.

In other words, the best way to deal with life changes and the stress they create is to have a solid support system to rely on.

While we can’t plan for change, we can work toward building stronger relationships and families that will help us weather the storms and enjoy the sunshine on the other side.

According to the Journal of Marriage and Family Review, strong families have six significant qualities in common:

1: Appreciation/affection

2: Commitment

3: Positive communication

4: Time together

5: Strong coping skills

6: Spiritual well-being.

Over the next six weeks, we’ll take a closer look at each of these six qualities and suggest ways to assess them in your relationships, along with practical tools you can use to strengthen your family for generations to come.

I look forward to continuing this relationship journey alongside you.

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Remember me?

It’s been over 3 months since I last wrote a column. On July 24th, we welcomed a new little girl to our family, Larkin Maeve Hall. She’s the sweetest baby, easygoing going, and loves to sleep… which is very different from what we experienced with her now four-year-old brother. What they say is true – no two babies are alike.

I worked until I went into labor, and then some.

I may have sent a text or ten from the hospital bed, and I may have taken a phone call or five while in labor. I’m not a workaholic. There were loose ends that needed to be tied before I could shut down my brain and focus. One week after Lark was born, I found myself checking emails, messaging staff, and wondering if I should just “stop by the office for a quick check-in.” My husband gently reminded me on multiple occasions to put my phone away and unplug so that I could enjoy the season we were in. After a bit of force, I realized that I wasn’t practicing what I preach. I needed to set sturdy boundaries for myself to give my family attention and connection. I needed to put first things first. 

Personalities, responsibilities, and experiences play a large part in someone’s ability to step away from their work, but I believe there are even bigger elements at play, and multiple research studies reinforce my theories.

Here are three big obstacles to putting first things first, and what we can do about it.

Obstacle 1:

Technology creates unrealistic expectations for responsiveness and availability.

Whether it’s a boss texting at 9 am on a Sunday or a colleague with a question while on vacation, technology has created an expectation for urgent responsiveness. “The expectation of constant availability… can lead to longer working hours and a lack of separation between work and personal life,” state researchers Priya Keshwani and Shweta Patel in their 2023 report: The Impact of Technology on Work Life Balance. “The boundary between work and leisure time becomes blurred, making it challenging for individuals to fully disconnect and recharge.”  

Solution: Verbally set boundaries and expectations with your coworkers.

Our First Things First team established a rule: Email is the primary source of communication for all work-related items. If an emergency occurs or an urgent matter needs to be addressed, a text or a phone call is acceptable even after hours. What defines an emergency? Something that will harm someone or the mission of the organization if not urgently addressed. All other matters can be responded to within a 24-48 hour period.

Obstacle 2:

A lack of support for parents means the parent/child relationship suffers.

You’ve heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It also takes a village to support a parent. A 2018 survey by Pew Research indicates that 15% of parents feel completely unsupported by their family or community, while 40% feel slightly or somewhat unsupported. This means over half of parents don’t feel they have the support they need to create the secure relationship with their children they desire.

Solution: Actively ask for help and accept assistance when it comes.

This is easier said than done and doesn’t look the same for every parent. In my recent experience, many friends and family assumed I was “fine” because it was our second baby, she was a good sleeper, and I’m a “high energy” individual who can “handle more than the average person.” When I expressed my need for a break to my Mom, she appeared in a heartbeat and said, “Thanks for letting me know what you need.” When friends asked if they could come to see the baby, I said “Yes, but please bring coffee, food, or grocery items with you!” 

Obstacle 3:

The average pace of life is faster, which means deep connection is harder to obtain.

It can be easy for families to assume that the more we do together, the closer we become. But a recent study conducted by Dr. Robert Whitaker, director of the Columbia-Bassett research program at Columbia University in New York City, found family connections are made at home. Whitaker reports that “the essence of family connection is children feeling that they are accepted and nurtured at home, which allows them to learn what their strengths and weaknesses are in a safe environment as they are building their identity.”

Solution: Slow down and create an environment where children are seen, heard, and feel like they belong.

“Adults do not need to make grand gestures to bond with their children,” says Elaine Reese, a professor of psychology at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. “Having meaningful conversations is more important for your connection than taking them on expensive trips or doing extravagant things together.”

In essence, putting first things first isn’t easy, especially in our constantly connected, individualistic, and fast-paced world.

But, the next generation depends on it and the health of our families is determined by it. So, the question is how will you overcome the obstacles to putting first things first in your own life?

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Parenting is a complex reality where influence meets responsibility. Parents shape a child’s present and future. 

After recent surges in adolescent mental health problems and suicide, the nation’s leading public health authorities have declared an emergency.

Gallup, a global analytics and advisory firm, launched a study in the summer of 2023 to better understand the fuel behind the teen mental health crisis. Before seeking to understand the current state of teen mental health, it’s important to review the decades of research that link parenting styles to teen mental health.

In the mid-20th century, a significant surge of empirical research on parenting and child development took place. Pioneering psychologists Eleanor Maccoby, Diana Baumrind, and G.R. Patterson laid the foundation, highlighting the pivotal role of firm but warm parenting styles in fostering socially competent and mentally healthy children. Baumrind’s concept of “authoritative parenting” emphasized the necessity of considering a child’s needs while maintaining parental authority in decision-making. The essence of authoritative parenting lies in the delicate balance of affection, responsive attention to a child’s needs, and setting expectations for responsible behavior. 

Research spanning over a thousand studies has consistently affirmed that authoritative parenting predicts fewer mental health issues and problematic behaviors in adolescents.

Conversely, both authoritarian and permissive parenting styles correlate with higher risks of mental health problems and behavioral issues. 

The significance of parental influence goes beyond theoretical frameworks. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY97) emphasizes that qualities such as responsiveness, routine experiences, and parental monitoring predict fewer internalizing and externalizing problems in youth. The longitudinal nature of studies like the NLSY97 reveals the enduring effects of parenting into adulthood. Better relationships with parents during adolescence significantly correlate with improved physical and mental health well into an individual’s late 30s. 

Internationally, studies echo these findings, emphasizing the universal benefits of firm and warm parenting. While genetic factors may play a role in parenting responses, empirical evidence highlights that changes in the parent-child relationship distinctly impact adolescent mental health, suggesting a deeper influence than genetics alone. 

Understanding the impact of parenting on teen mental health is crucial.

So, which parenting practices best predict mental health outcomes? According to the 2023 Gallup study, the most powerful parenting practices identified in the survey relate to regulation and enforcement. The results show it’s less likely an adolescent will be in good mental health when their parents are passive or set little to no boundaries. Likewise, it is more likely adolescents will be in good mental health when parents share expectations, build routines, and provide tasks and responsibilities to be completed. Also, daily displays of affection and responding quickly to a child’s needs both predict better mental health.

Parents carry a large weight on their shoulders. For some, this information and hypothesis may make the weight feel even heavier. Seeking connection over control and setting firm boundaries when needed will provide the best outcome for your relationship and your child long-term.

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

The well-known statistic still rings true: about half of all first-time marriages in the United States end in divorce.

This stat increases in likelihood of subsequent marriages, reaching 70% for third-time marriages, according to a research-based article released by Forbes earlier this year. 61% of dissolved marriages involve children under the age of 18 living in the home.

What happens to the children whose parents choose to part ways?

For many years, the kids almost always ended up living with just one parent, typically the mom. But recent studies reveal a new trend is dramatically on the rise in the U.S.–joint physical custody. This means a child resides with each parent for an equal or significant amount of time.

A 2022 study released by Demographic Research revealed that the number of divorces ending in physical joint custody rose from 13% in 1985 to 34% in 2010. “Although the increase is steepest among high-income couples, it’s happening across the socioeconomic spectrum,” says Daniel Meyer, a social work professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who studies child custody.

How do the children fair who spend an equal or significant amount of time between two households?

A 2018 study released by the Family Process Journal reveals on average, children in shared arrangements tend to fare slightly better than those in sole custody on a variety of metrics, including life satisfaction, stress levels, and self-esteem. That being said, the majority of couples who share custody are usually better off financially, have higher levels of education, and have a more amicable relationship. This makes sense, considering it takes money to provide for a child and have consistent means of transportation.

While there are many advocates for joint physical custody and research shows the scenario is beneficial for children overall, it’s important to note in some situations—like if one parent is abusive or unstable, for example—sole custody is in fact what’s best for the child. 

Since the 19th century, full custody has been generally granted to the mom. However, in America’s earlier days, fathers were automatically given custody of their children because they were seen more as property. As women began to take on a more domestic role, these social dynamics shifted. Today, custody battles rage on for years, even as joint custody becomes more common. The reason? America is built on the premise there can be two parents, but only one household. Therefore, joint custody is difficult to measure and researchers are confident children in joint custody homes are often reported twice- because they are living in two households. Benefits, such as tax returns and medical insurance, can only be granted per household, which assumes all children are part of only one.

What does this mean for the future of families in America?

Here are three things to consider around this new “two household child” reality.

  1. Policies, procedures, and systems need to change for joint custody children and parents to receive the support and benefits they need. While a two-parent household is supported as the most beneficial for children and communities long-term, separation and divorce will inevitably continue. With a better understanding of joint custody and the value it can provide for children, it’s in our nation’s best interest to reevaluate the current workings around child custody and divorce proceedings. 
  2. Increased access to marriage education, therapy, and support could prevent some marriages from ending in the first place. Of course, custody wouldn’t be a topic of conversation if marriages were healthier. Supporting families begins with seeking to better understand what’s causing marriages to dissolve and providing assistance when possible. PewResearch and Forbes recently reported the number one reason for divorce was due to a lack of commitment in the relationship, with 75% of individuals saying they could no longer fulfill their wedding vows due to lack of desire and compatibility. Lack of commitment significantly surpassed infidelity and domestic abuse as reasons for divorce. 
  3. Joint custody may provide a sort of remedy to the “fatherlessness” crisis our country has faced for the last century. According to 2023 data released by the Census, the proportion of children growing up with a resident dad is at its highest since 1989. Slightly more than three-quarters of children today (75.9%), or 54.5 million of our nation’s 72.3 million, can count a resident dad as a housemate. Decades of research show children who grow up with their dads being consistently present in their lives are more likely to thrive physically, emotionally, and socially than children who grow up without their dads. 

There’s no point in ignoring the reality of two household children. While the complexities are obvious, it’s time to figure out a new path to support them. The answers will undoubtedly be complicated, but necessary nevertheless. 

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

My son was born four years ago. I took a three month maternity leave and eased my way back into work, a luxury many parents do not have. I remember calling my sister-in-law one night (who is also a working mom) and sobbing to her about my life. I’m a horrible mom. My son is being cared for by someone else. Will he even know me? What if he thinks someone else is his mom?

My sister-in-law told me the best advice I’ve ever been given as a working parent, “Lauren. It’s the quality of time spent with him that matters, not the quantity.”

Her words calmed my nerves and made me view each moment I spent with my son that much more precious. But the best part is: her words are backed by research.

Dr. Melissa Milkie, Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, completed research in 2015 that focused on the effects of parental involvement with children. The study revealed that quantity of time mattered far less than the quality of interaction, especially for children under the age of 12. 

As parents, we often find ourselves doing a lot of things for our children. Making dinner, cleaning up, doing laundry, taking them from here to there. What if we seized the opportunity to not only “do” but to “be” for our children? What if we were to “be” intentional through connecting with them in conversation, playing with them and letting them lead activities?

Dr. Dan Siegal, a New York Times Bestselling Author and professor of psychiatry at UCLA, says just 10 minutes of intentional uninterrupted time of play, conversation and sharing of experiences with your child can do wonders for your relationship with them, as well as their confidence, brain development and behavior. That’s right, just 10 minutes.

If you’re a working parent, you may be thinking, “I don’t have 10 minutes!” Here are few ideas to find those 10 minutes in your day:

  • Before work/school: Talk about the schedule of the day, how each other is feeling, what you’re excited or nervous about.
  • After work/school: Play with your child, but let them LEAD. No phones, no screens, just unhindered time for connection and fun.
  • Involve your child in cooking or doing chores: This may sound scary, but even just asking them to be present in the kitchen while you make dinner or sweep the floor can make them feel like they’re important to you and an integral part of your world. You can always ask questions, sing songs or play “I Spy” while you fold clothes or peel potatoes.
  • Before bed: Read with your child. Talk about what you enjoy in the story and anything new you may have learned. Or follow up on your day. Take turns sharing the best thing that happened to you that day, one thing new you may have tried, or one way you helped someone else. 

Here’s a little inside secret: I started using the 10 minute theory with my son three years ago. While it has relieved some pressure, it has ultimately helped me to see our relationship through a different lens. And it’s helped me to realize just how much time I DO have with him and how much each second matters.

Being a parent is about more than just being around your child. It’s about being connected with your child.