I had a great conversation about The Emotions of Parenthood over on the Zebra Ears podcast. We talked about mental health, depression, Meghan Markle, and parenting – now available on iTunes and Spotify.
I was recently the speaker on The Zebra School, a parenting podcast, on pregnancy and mental health. Depression, both during pregnancy, and postpartum, are very serious concerns that can affect the entire family. The podcast and blog interview will be officially LIVE May 1, 2021. You can listen to the full interview on iTunes, Spotify, Google, and a few other audio platforms. Just search for The Zebra School on the desired platform.
Zebras are ungulates with an acute sense of hearing. Like a horse, a zebra can turn their ears in almost any direction – capturing the sounds of its environment with keen precision. Similarly, The Zebra School programs promote content committed to keeping our ears to the ground to stay abreast of relevant information taking place in the childhood space.
Neuropsychological research shows that those children who have a set of chores have higher self-esteem, are more responsible, and are better able to deal with frustration and delay gratification, all of which contribute to greater success in relationships, school, and future endeavors. These are all aspects of executive functioning, which include planning, organizing, sequencing, sustaining effort, and self monitoring, all mediated by the frontal lobe of the brain. One study by Dr. Martin Rossman showed that the best predictor of young adults’ career success in their mid-20’s was participating in household tasks when they were children. Also see the What Is Executive Functioning
In my practice, parents often express concern that their kids are so busy with school work, sports, and social life, that they have little or no time to contribute to household tasks. I believe that household tasks and chores are absolutely essential, contribute to brain development, and help with prioritizing, scheduling, and multitasking. I specifically assign household tasks that are developmentally appropriate as part of a treatment plan for each family.
I often ask kids, are you important in your family? Kids begin to see themselves as important contributors to the family. They feel a connection to the family. Holding them accountable for their chores can increase a sense of themselves as responsible and capable. Not being taught the skills of everyday living can limit children’s ability to function at age appropriate levels. By expecting children to complete self-care tasks and to help with household chores, parents equip children with the skills to function independently in the outside world.
If you let children off the hook for chores because they have too much schoolwork or need to practice a sport, then you are saying, intentionally or not, that their academic or athletic skills are more important than life skills. I work with young adults who go off to college and don’t know how to do their laundry or who live with roommates and leave piles of dishes in the sink, causing friction. Chores are an important part of relationships, with family, colleagues, and friends. One goal I emphasize is for kids to plan and help make a meal for the family each week. By accomplishing goals that are not related to school or athletic prowess, there can be huge gains in self-efficacy and self-esteem.
You can model a message that there are tasks that need to be completed in order for the entire household to run smoothly, and that everyone in the family is encouraged and expected to participate. Or, alternatively by being allowed to avoid tasks, children may receive the message that chores are boring, mundane, can be put aside, and are to be done by others.
Young children naturally want to be a part of the family and want to help. Ideally, you will encourage their participation (even if it takes more work on your part in the short run). The size of the task does not matter; the responsibility associated with it does. Praise hard.
When tasks are assigned, and completed on a consistent basis, they are creating new neural pathways. Being overly critical or judgmental is not the objective, making chores part of a daily routine is.
For those parents who did not begin a chore regimen when their kids were little, you can still start a plan now. You can take some time to think about what tasks you need help with in the home, what life skills your children need to learn, and what are each child’s interests and abilities.
As you contemplate these decisions, you can ask your children for their feedback and input. This shows teamwork and connection. Also, brainstorm ideas for overcoming any obstacles faced in the past, such as children not following through, arguing, or not doing a thorough job. Many parents hold a family meeting to discuss chores and when and how they will be starting, revising, or re-instating them. Such times together can build morale, improve relationships, and facilitate creative problem solving.
Giving an Allowance
One question that parents frequently ask is whether allowance should be tied to the completion of chores. This is a personal call for families. ￼Many parents want their children to help around the house as a contributing member of the family, not because there is money or other external rewards associated with it. The option I most often discuss is that chores and allowance can be separate. I also encourage providing an allowance or reward for a task that is above and beyond everyday routines, such as cleaning the garage, painting a shed, or other major house projects.
One alternative to paying an allowance may be to have children earn privileges for completing their chores. For example, a teen may earn the right to use the car on the weekends by washing the automobile. A school-age child may earn the privilege to have friends over to play if he throws away the trash and puts away the games after a previous gathering with friends. Often parents expect kids to finish their schoolwork, before they get on their favorite video game. All of these actions demonstrate earning privileges, and when done consistently, show that chores and fun are both important.
“I don’t know where she gets it from…” “He is just like me.” Familiar phrases I hear from parents.
Two year-olds have to learn to say “no” before they can say “yes.” The “no” of the 2-year-old is a crucial component of the development of self. When their “no” is accepted, it makes it possible for the child to begin feeling authorship of their “yes.”
“Yes” is a nod to the self, to one’s desires, needs, and drive toward autonomy. The period between leaving childhood and entering adolescence is an interesting time fraught with many hurdles, successes and challenges. In this mix is the desire to express individuality. According to Jungian psychology, this is individuation, and relates to the individual’s personality differentiating from others. Specifically, it is related to the ‘separating’ or individuating from one’s parents, and during adolescence it takes on particular importance. This means the child is given space to question and even change the rules, as they move toward “yes,” i.e., developing their identity as autonomous adults.
According to clinical psychologist Dr. Shefali Tsabary, the conscious parent understands that children are not possessions; they are expressive, free-thinking individuals with their own spirit and interests. “They are not ours to possess, to control and dominate, and to act as if they are our puppets, our minions, our products,” Dr. Shefali says.
Pitfalls in individuation: Parentification
Parentification is a role reversal where the parent gets the child to take care of the parent. The parent raises the child to care for the parent’s physical and emotional needs, ￼rather than exploring the child’s needs.
Instead: The importance of self-care, balanced with being able to accept the care of others.￼
Criticism violates a sense of worth. It can lead to kids who second-guess themselves and constantly seek the approval of others.
Instead: Having positive self-regard and liking who you are.
Possessiveness violates a sense of autonomy; a possessive parent undermines the natural desire to explore who the child is, away from the parent￼.
Instead: Making personal choices and decisions and understanding the consequences, both positive and negative.
Dependence violates a sense of agency. A child needs to learn they have self-advocacy, a capacity to create change in their lives, no matter the struggle.
Instead: Being your own advocate, which includes asking for help as needed.￼
Unpredictability violates a sense of security. When you can’t trust your primary caregiver, it teaches you that you cannot trust anyone else, which makes the world seem dangerous.
Instead: Taking responsibility for and living with one’s own choices, the good and bad ones alike. ￼
Rescuing violates a sense of healthy collaboration. The parent indulges and “saves” a child from any form of pain. Instead of teaching them how to process the reality of limits, the parent encourages their child to see themselves as someone who needs rescue or indulgence.
Instead: I take care of myself, and also enjoy working with others.
We cannot really change a child to be more like us, or more like we want them to be. We can lead them, guide them and encourage them to a degree, but we must allow for the part of them that we may not recognise, or even understand. So, the next time you feel that your child is behaving in a way that ‘you just don’t know where they get it from.’
Why do some people have a strong work ethic, and others just, well, don’t?
Psychology research has helped define these main indicators of work ethic:
￼Framing an end result or goal￼
Being available and reliable
Creating a rewarding routine/system
The role of parenting
Attitudes and values develop early in life and there is evidence that the relationship with parents affects the work development of adolescents.
With regard to adults, ￼Leenders and her colleagues (2017, journal of general psychology￼) investigated this by surveying nearly 4,000 people in the Netherlands, asking them to rate the quality of the relationship that they had with their mother and father.
The results showed that: Overall, people who had had a more positive relationship with their parents during their teens had a more positive work orientation and stronger work ethic later in life. And, youngsters who had parents with a strong work ethic also tended to work harder.￼
Does work ethic matter?
￼In 2009, a study entitled “Personality and Career Success: Concurrent and Longitudinal Relations” found that people scoring a high degree of conscientiousness (work ethic) on the Big Five test earned considerably higher incomes and reported greater job satisfaction.
A National Institute of Mental Health Study found that conscientious men earned significantly higher salaries than their low-C counterparts.
A 2006 study reported in the Journal of Applied Psychology linked conscientiousness with entrepreneurship, finding that successful entrepreneurs scored far higher on conscientiousness than managers.
Research from the University of Sheffield in the UK is one of the many studies that link conscientiousness with high educational attainment. Simply put, conscientious kids do better at school.
Other studies associate conscientiousness with long life, as conscientious people are far less likely to smoke, drink to excess, abuse drugs, drive too fast or break the law. They are also drawn to other conscientious people, which puts them in long-lasting stable relationships and healthy work situations.
Conscientiousness even determines your chances of becoming an influential presence on Twitter, according to a University of Cambridge study.
￼In my opinion, ￼the most remarkable thing about conscientiousness is its ability to cut across situational variables. Arriving on time, being on top of deadlines, making plans and sticking to them – these skills help you regardless of your life stage, transitions, or work situation.
Out of all the big-five personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism; conscientiousness is the only trait that consistently shows a strong relationship to work ethic. Overall, conscientious individuals tend to demonstrate a strong work ethic, be reliable, punctual, pay attention to detail and show commitment and purpose.
Conscientiousness can be broken down into two sub-traits:
Industriousness, which refers to the ability to suppress disruptive impulses and pursue non-immediate goals
Orderliness, which refers to the ability to adopt and follow rules (either self-imposed or imposed by others).
Work ethic and neuroscience
High Conscientiousness has been linked to a greater connectivity between several neural networks in the brain:
The cognitive control network controls your executive functions- attention, planning, working memory, and social behavior.
The salience network primarily decides which things you pay attention to and which things you ignore. Both of these networks are controlled by the Frontal Lobe, the conductor of the brain. ￼
￼A lot of my work consists of working with men. Many male patients have not been allowed to share their emotions in an open fashion. Crying actually releases cortisol through tears. That is the stress hormone, and is is not good to have in your body. Tears release it. As adults, being vulnerable is good for relationships, but if you were told that it’s not a good thing, it’s hard. ￼I hope we can change this mentality that men shouldn’t cry.￼
￼Trick or treating and the entire Halloween celebration always leaves memorable and precious moments in the hearts of your child, and is an excellent opportunity for parents to get to further know the emotional capabilities of their children. Overall, pretend play is highly recommended for children as it helps the development of their language skills, social and emotional skills, thinking skills, and it also helps in developing their imagination. The ability of a child to pick out their own costume￼￼ also helps with decision-making skills and overall executive functioning.
What happens when your child is afraid of Halloween?
With all the zombies, monsters, ghouls, and ghosts in cartoons and movies, it’s not unusual to find children who are afraid at Halloween time. As a parent, you have a role in helping your child overcome these fears by looking for ways to emphasizing the fun and not the scary aspects of the celebration.
In order to help your child overcome Halloween fears, you can find a fun alternative to trick or treating. Take note of any signs of anxiety or stress. Don’t try to minimize the fear.
Halloween is also important because kids get an enormous payday. They get candy, which is the universal currency of childhood. Some kids are good at rationing, and they make it last until Thanksgiving. Other kids have been waiting for the late-October Bacchanal all year, and they’re going to finish the whole pile before bed; oral hygiene can take a hike for the evening.
This might be the perfect time to talk to your kids about budgeting, and making the pile last. It might be the time to show them how grownup paychecks work, and “tax” their pile. It might be the time to explain the relationship between labor and income, demonstrating that the more houses they visit, the more candy they earn. They also observe that some givers are more generous than others.
Halloween, a perfect time to practice executive functioning skills.￼
This is the family schedule that I use with my clients at Embolden Psychology. Obviously, it requires fine-tuning for each individual family’s need￼s. No matter: It’s important to lay it out. I also have my young folks keep a grand paper day planner or calendar in addition to online reminders.￼ ￼ This can include, designated using different colored pens: academic obligations, social, family, extracurricular, and self care.
In 1909, the psychologist Edward Titchener translated the German Einfühlung (‘feeling into’) into English as ‘empathy’. Empathy can be defined as a person’s ability to recognize and share the emotions of another person, fictional character, or sentient being. It involves, first, seeing someone else’s situation from their perspective, and, second, sharing their emotions, including their distress.
According to writer and therapist, Dr. Brené Brown, empathy builds connection and communicates to another that “you are not alone.” Sometimes when someone shares something difficult or painful, it can be incredibly difficult. Feeling that one is alone makes it worse.
In Danish schools an hour a week is dedicated to the “Klassens tid”, an empathy lesson for students aged 6 to 16 years. It is a fundamental part of the Danish curriculum. The hour of empathy is as important as the time spent, for example, on English or mathematics. During the Klassens tid students discuss their problems, either related to school or not, and the whole class, together with the teacher, tries to find a solution based on real listening and understanding. If there are no problems to discuss, children are simply spent the time together relaxing and enjoying hygge, a word (and also a verb and an adjective), which cannot be translated literally, since it is a phenomenon closely related to Danish culture. Hygge could be defined as “intentionally created intimacy”.
How is empathy different from sympathy?
Sympathy is primarily about observation and an acceptance that someone else is going through challenging experiences. It can amount to “feeling sorry” for someone, which is an acknowledgment of a situation. It’s not a concept that requires someone to experience the emotion that another person is going through deeply. With this, there’s a natural detachment from the situation.
Four attributes of empathy:
1. Perspective taking. This means trying to see the world through someone else’s eyes. Oftentimes, to engage in perspective taking, we need to ask questions. “Can you tell me what is going on for you right now?” “What feelings are you experiencing?” Perspective taking can also involve you thinking back to past experiences and remembering what you felt like when you were there. If you have never experienced the same situation this person is describing, you can ask yourself “What might this feel like?”
2. Staying out of judgment. This is when you describe things as neither good nor bad. It also includes not shaming others for having the experience they are having. When someone shares something difficult with us, judgmental questions and comments might arise. Some examples would be, “What was your role in making this happen?” or “I don’t know why you are feeling this way about this.” Trying to fix the situation Instead of listening can also be disconnecting.
3. Recognizing emotion. When practicing empathy, it is important to look to others to learn from and recognize their emotional experience. What are they feeling? What kind of body language are they using that might clue you into what they are experiencing? Do they appear to be overwhelmed at this time or open to talking? Have you seen this person in a similar state before and can that inform how you might approach them now?
4. Communicate emotion. Once we recognize emotion in another person, it can be helpful to let them know that we are seeing them as well as their experience. Saying things like “I see that you are angry” or “It makes sense that you feel this way” are good examples. Communicating that message in the right way makes all the difference. Telling someone “I know what it’s like to feel sad” (or whatever emotion they’re feeling) shows them you understand their emotions. When this happens, the person dealing with the difficult emotions then feels they’re not alone. It’s also important to let the other person speak and not let it become about you in the moment.