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Embrace
Silence

Being present for every moment – doesn’t that sound lovely? Moments where we feel our true self resonate. Moments to connect purely with loved ones or experience mother nature at her finest. These moments are the priceless currency we bank into our “life well-lived” account. Yet it doesn’t take much for days to overflow with jobs, raising kids, and taking care of households and never find ourselves present for any of it. One of the most powerful tools I’ve found to become present is embracing silence.

Perhaps you’ve used practices like prayer or meditation to help create silent space in your life. It took me many years to learn to use these practices regularly and with intention. But silence had long since found me. God (Universe or whatever name you see fit) knows we need the space of silence to experience life fully. Silence finds us if we don’t find it first.

Explosive Silence

Sometimes silence finds us when a total bomb goes off in our life. Major disruption to the family, illness, and trauma can be loud and raucous events but often lead to a period of intense silence. My first intense experience with silence came after a serious car accident. I have never been so quiet in my life! There was commotion of people, doctor’s appointments, therapy, and world events (9/11 happened a few weeks after the accident), but I was internally silent. I was not thinking through the nuances of the accident. There was no mental processing of the changes my future held. I was just silent.

Many critical things happened in that silence – without me even recognizing it until much later – like complete forgiveness of the person who hit me and sheer gratitude for another day to breathe and be alive. Life threw me a huge curveball, but in that same experience gave me silence and space to recognize the important things in my life. It gave me the chance to see a new version of my life, a new and better version of myself.

Growing Silence

Life doesn’t always throw us into disarray to find silence but does offer the usual transitions of growing to give us a (sometimes uncomfortable) nudge. Think back to the first few years after high school or college as we tiptoed into “real life”. Those aren’t always the most comfortable experiences. Moving to new places, changing social circles, and taking new jobs are awkward and uncertain, to say the least. In these experiences we find ourselves inherently quiet, often more out of circumstance than choice. That silence gives us the opportunity to take in what’s around us, process information, and create our new reality.

The same could be said for becoming parents. Even if we fall into parenting with great ease and joy, it is still a huge life shift and transition. The early part of parenting is so quiet – sleepless nights, constant feedings. Even when a baby is screaming at the top of its lungs, there is little space for mental chatter. So we meet another opportunity to recognize silence, create space to appreciate what is right in front of us, and embrace new love.

Practiced Silence

The last stop on our tour of silent spaces is the intentional one. The experience of silence when it is intentional is more intense and penetrating – transformative not just on our thoughts but on our being. The beauty I’ve experienced in practiced silence have been far reaching across every area of life. However, the most precious gift of practiced silence has been the presence to be here, right now, with my family.

The saying goes “the days are long but the years are short”. I found that phrase to be especially true while raising infants and toddlers. However, as my kids get older, my experience has changed. My experience now is that the days are too short. The opportunity to soak them up is right here. I’ve become like a sponge that never fills – just taking it all in. Practicing silence daily has allowed me to be present to them. Present to the way my kids speak. Awake enough to sense their moods and intentional enough to opt into a weird board game.

Embracing Silence

Practicing silence has allowed for transformation that in the way I think, how I experience life, and what I see for the future. Regardless of how we meet the silent spaces of life, the opportunity to embrace them and grow from them is a choice we can make. It isn’t an exercise in perfection, but it is an invitation to experience life from a more enriched and authentic space. Silence reveals our true nature and therefore our individual awesomeness.

The potential that exists inside the vacuum of silence is exceptional. And we will be exceptional when we step inside it. Then, we get to bring that refined self into a space of connection with our spouse and experience with our children. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving. It’s worth every single silent moment.

Ready to help quiet your mind? Here is one of my favorite calming breath practices.

Interested in beginning your own silence practice? Check out this beautiful book, Sacred Silence, by my teacher, Catherine Divine.

Another favorite: Just Breathe by Dan Brule.

Be Impeccable
With Your Word

In my practice, I try to share simple, powerful ideas on how to improve communication skills so our relationships – both personal and professional – can thrive. In my last article, I talked about the importance of deep listening. Today I want to focus on being impeccable when it comes to one word – but.  This one word can change how we communicate with our most important partnership: marriage.

“But” is a toxic word when it comes to interpersonal communication. It is not only a stumbling block to effective communication, it actually undermines consensus building and throws a monkey wrench into cooperative pursuits. Linguistically “but” signals a transition. It effectively tells the language side of our brains to disregard everything that came before and pay particularly close attention to what is about to be said. On the surface, this may seem like a good thing. Consider, however, how we typically use the word and the impact on the relationship in the examples below.

Example 1:

Child: But I’m not hungry right now. (Protesting finishing what’s on his plate.)
Parent: I know you aren’t hungry, but I want you to finish what’s on your plate before you get down from the table.

Example 2:

Spouse: I know we agreed that we were going to rein in our spending, but it was on sale and I’ve been wanting one for a long time.

Example 3:

Coworker: I’ve been thinking about the Anderson project. I reworked some of the ideas over the weekend, and I really think there is an opportunity here to do something different.
Supervisor: I appreciate your enthusiasm and creativity, but the Anderson team have been long time customers of ours. I don’t want to rock the boat rolling out something new with one of our longest standing clients.

Do you see it? More importantly do you feel it? “But” often creates a power differential. The speaker is giving lip service to – pretending as if they want – cooperation and collaboration. In reality, however, they are looking for submission communicating that they are in a position of authority.

In the first example, the child’s own physical boundaries are being imposed upon. They are being asked to neglect their own internal cues (satiation) in order to satisfy the authority’s (parent) desire that they clean their plate. Repeated over time, the child learns to distrust their own instincts and instead to prioritize the wants of others. They may learn to defer to others, to downplay their own wants and needs. Of course, this can lead to many difficulties emotionally and interpersonally if the habit endures into adulthood.

In the second example, the spouse is communicating a unilateral veto power regarding decisions. Their wants and needs supersede agreements made between partners. Agreements are good and worthy of enforcement only when they align with their wants and needs. But agreements that are not in alignment with wants and needs are subject to immediate nullification without consultation. The other spouse is not an equal partner with an equal voice. They are listened to and considered only when the spouse in authority deems it appropriate.

In the third example, the coworker’s creativity, enthusiasm, and initiative has been punished. The message is clear. Stay in your lane. Don’t think for yourself. Do what you’re told. Observe the status quo. This is not a team environment (despite what we said when we hired you). You are not to do anything that may reflect poorly upon company tradition or your line of supervision.

Replacing “But”

To be sure, my analysis of these situations is perhaps more dramatic than the listener/receiver of the message may perceive or interpret the message of the speaker. I’ve elaborated to emphasize the power of this small word – “but” – and the automatic habit we have of using it in our everyday discussions. The dramatic interpretation creates a window of opportunity to try something different and develop a new habit. Instead of saying “but” build the habit of saying “yes, and”.

“Yes, and” communicates acceptance. It lets the speaker know what they have said has been heard and more importantly valued. “Yes, and” fosters creativity. It sets the stage for true collaboration. “Yes, and” is so powerful in terms of fostering collaboration that improve theater students train in the use of “yes, and”. “Yes, and” is Miracle Grow for problem solving and brainstorming.

Take on this challenge for the next week. Replace “yeah, but” thoughts and responses with “yes, and” thoughts and responses. See how relationships change as a result. Making this a consistent practice will not only change relationships with others, it will also changes the way we relate to ourselves.

Recommended Resource:  “The Four Agreements” by Miguel Ruiz. I highly recommend it for those on the path to personal freedom. Briefly, the four agreements outlined in the book are: 1) Be impeccable with your word. 2) Don’t take anything personally. 3) Don’t make assumptions. and 4) Always do your best.

Dr. Sean Smitham

Dr. Sean Smitham

Dr. Sean Smitham, Ph.D. a licensed Clinical Psychologist and family therapist who lives and practices in Spokane, Washington.

Raising Grateful
Children

‘Thank you’ is considered a hallmark of grateful children.  Many parents consistently prompt their children to use this phrase upon receiving a gift, a compliment, or favor. While saying ‘thank you’ is an important aspect of gratitude, gratitude is a complex experience that extends beyond using simple phrases. We also know that gratitude is associated with optimal outcomes such as higher reported levels of life satisfaction, fewer physical illnesses, less anxiety and depression, increased sense of optimism, and improved social interactions. Given the advantages related to gratefulness, it is not surprising that many parents strive to raise grateful children.

What is Gratitude?

  • Gratitude is a multi-faceted experience that includes three components:
    • Behaviors (e.g., saying ‘thank you,’ writing a thank you note)
    • Emotions (e.g., feeling appreciative, thankful, or happy)
    • Cognition (e.g., awareness of another person’s intention and the fact that the gift or favor was not owed to the recipient and was freely given)
  • Gratitude is a developmental process that unfolds over a long period of time.
    • While it may be relatively easy to shape the behaviors that reflect gratitude through consistent reminders to say ‘thank you,’ we can’t simply force children to genuinely feel appreciative.
    • A true feeling of appreciation likely requires the cognitive sophistication to engage in perspective taking and be aware of others’ intentions. In other words, until a child realizes that a gift or favor was given freely and was not owed, he or she may not be able to genuinely feel appreciative or thankful.
    • Given the multiple processes (i.e., behavior, emotion, cognition) involved in experiencing gratitude, genuine and deep gratitude may not emerge until children are between 7 and 10 years old.
  • Gratitude is a product of parent socialization. Parents who are grateful and who model gratitude have children who display more gratefulness. Further, parents who select activities and contexts in which gratitude is valued and encouraged (e.g., social service activities, schools/curriculum that teach about gratitude) have children who display more gratefulness. Finally, parents who explicitly teach gratitude have children who display more gratefulness. That is, parents who purposefully ask their children to think about the benefits they gain when receiving gifts or favors while at the same time asking their children to consider the intention of person who gave the gift or favor tend to have children who experience more gratefulness.

What are the Recommendations for Cultivating Gratitude in Children?

  1. Practice what you preach. If you want your children to become more grateful, model gratitude yourself. Say thank you to others. Say thank you to your children. Write thank you notes (or thank you emails/texts). Talk to your children about how happy you feel when receiving a gift or a favor.  Remind children that the gift or favor was not owed to you and was freely given.
  2. Consistently remind children to say thank you and start when they are young. Children’s initial ‘thank you’ responses are initially driven by external prompts (e.g., parent reminders).  Through continued practice, children’s ‘thank you’ responses become more internalized, heartfelt, and meaningful.
  3. Choose contexts and activities in which gratefulness is valued. Consider service activities such as volunteering at food pantries or donating to programs such as Toys for Tots. Intentionally seek out books/films that highlight gratitude and make sure your children are being exposed to various expressions of gratitude.
  4. Explicitly teach gratitude through practices such as talking about the meaning of appreciation and thankfulness. Ask your children how they feel when you say ‘thank you’ to them.  Then have them think about how it must make others feel if we say thank you. Explicitly point out expressions of gratitude when you see them.
  5. Be patient. Realize that gratitude emerges over time and requires cognitive and emotional development.

Summary

Practicing gratitude is beneficial for children and is something that can be easily practiced in multiple settings. Not only does practicing gratitude benefit a child, but it also benefits the people children interact with because it helps others feel appreciated and valued.  Raising grateful children is the perfect chance to practice what we preach.

Recommended Resource: Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character

Dr. Mary Beth Leibham

Dr. Mary Beth Leibham

Mary Beth Leibham, a professor of psychology at University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Loras College (Iowa), a master's degree in developmental psychology from Miami University (Ohio) and a Ph.D. in educational psychology from Indiana University. Her early research interests focused on children's cognitive development, particularly the family and home factors related to young girls’ emerging science interests and science academic motivation. More recently, her research has focused on academic motivation, perfectionism, self-compassion, growth vs. fixed mindsets, and overparenting. Mary Beth teaches courses in child psychology, adolescent development, educational psychology, and exceptional children. Despite her extensive formal training in child development, Mary Beth’s most significant, impactful, and humbling learning experiences have come from her own four children and husband.