The Essentials of Positive Parenting

This is a recording of a live session with parents on the 5 pillars of positive parenting and how we can apply them to our parenting.

We had a lively discussion with LOTS of questions, especially about managing emotions in children.

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A simple way to keep your marriage fresh and strong

What makes love last? Is it possible to keep a relationship strong and vibrant over the long term or are we destined to live out our days in boredom and annoyance after the honeymoon is over?

That is a million-dollar question and researchers have been asking the same question for a very long time.
The beginning of a romantic relationship is often marked by high levels of passion, joy, attraction, excitement, and novelty. We find everything very exciting.
With time, however, these feelings and experiences become less intense, rendering the relationship a great deal less exciting.
This does not only happen in marriage and relationships but in all aspects of our lives.
Let us take the example of travel:
When we travel by air for the very first time, we are impressed if they give us earphones and a drink. It feels luxurious to sit in our seat with the stewardess coming around to check if we need anything and if our seat belts are tied.

After the first few rounds, however, we start eyeing business class. It seems so much more comfortable and luxurious. If we are lucky enough to enjoy business class travel, it feels indulgent at first . . . until we get used to it and then we start dreaming of the joys of first class . . .
Why does this happen?
Are we just really spoilt and entitled human beings or is there more to it?
Psychologists and scientists explain that getting used to the good things (and actually the not so good things) is natural and it is because of a process called Hedonic Adaptation.
Hedonic adaptation simply means that when a good (or bad) thing happens in our lives, it will make us happy or sad for a short amount of time, after which we will return to our normal state of happiness or misery.
This natural tendency of human beings leads us to switch off to the value of the good things in our lives. We fail to appreciate the full value of our health, of the people we love, of our peace, freedom and prosperity, and the very fact that we are alive at all. Our attention only turns to these things when something goes wrong. We learn the value of these things when they’re taken away from us–for example, we begin to appreciate the value of health when we become seriously ill or lose some functionality.

Using the travel example again, Hedonic Adaption means that we begin to take business class travel for granted – until we are bumped off business class on a flight and have to travel coach!
What does this mean for our relationships?
For our marriage relationships, this means that the “honeymoon period” will last for a short time and boredom or dissatisfaction will set in. We sometimes talk about it in a way that “love has faded” or that we have “fallen out of love”.
When we first fall in love we notice and appreciate all the good things that our spouse brings to the relationship. We appreciate that they bring us our first cup of coffee or tea. In time, we begin to take that morning ritual for granted – unless the tea is cold or there is not enough sugar.
What happened? We have start taking each other for granted. We have the “take for granted syndrome”. We begin to expect the good things and take them for granted. We only focus when something is not right.
While this may be the natural progression of a relationship it certainly does not bring us happiness. Maybe this is why there are sooo many jokes about and against marriage. It is almost as people expect to live in misery for the rest of their lives!
This sounds like really bad news, right?

The good news is that this course of events is not inevitable. There are many couples who manage to remain in love and happy over long term so there are ways to counteract this tendency and make sure that the relationship remains happy and satisfying.

Let’s explore one important way to maintain a happy relationship.

This simple practice is so powerful that I often refer to it as the 60 second technique to transform a relationship.

And this technique is the practice of appreciation

What is appreciation?

Appreciation means the recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.
Appreciation means to pay attention to something and have a positive feeling associated with that attention.
For example,
I appreciate that you are reading this post. (Makes me feel that my efforts are worth it)
I appreciate that friends take the time to answer my texts or calls. (It makes me feel supported)
I appreciate the time that you take to give me feedback. (It makes me feel valued)
I appreciate that my husband comes home in time for dinner. (It makes me feel connected)
And so on . . .
Why does appreciation work?
When we focus our attention to something that is going right in our lives, it allows us to continue to experience that positive thing and the events and emotions that accompany it. It other words, when I appreciate something, I delay the process of Hedonic Adaptation.
Science now recognizes that when we continue to practice appreciation of the things in our lives it can keep things new and fresh and manage increased expectations and feelings of entitlement.
So it turns out that in appreciating our spouses we benefit ourselves. On the other hand, when a person no longer attends to and appreciates his partner, he will essentially stop garnering any positivity or benefiting from having a partner, which is the very definition of adaptation. This is how boredom and taking for granted syndrome sets in and the relationship deteriorates.
Appreciating others is of course very important for the person on the receiving end of the appreciation as well. In order to keep doing our best, human beings need to know that our efforts matter and are appreciated. Even at work, research shows that appreciation or lack of it in an organization is a major predictor whether or not people will stay in the job. When people leave jobs and they are interviewed, they cite lack of appreciation or value for their work as a major reason for quitting. Similarly, in families, when family members feel appreciated, they are much more likely to keep doing positive things for the relationship and for each other.
How do we practice appreciation?

1) Become intentional about focusing on what is right rather than what is wrong. Learn to focus your attention on what is present rather than what is lacking. Train your brain to scan your day for what is going right.
2) Create practices to make it habit. Inspiration wears out. Consider a simple practice can you can ritualize. For example, you can start and end your day with an appreciation, or express it at mealtimes. In order to get the full benefits of appreciation for your relationship, you have to both feel it and express it. To work effectively, it needs to be consistent. You can express appreciation through a note, text, email or spoken word.
3) To develop a culture of appreciation, we can encourage others to appreciate us by receiving compliments more graciously. We can practice simply saying thank you and shut up. We don’t have to give it right back or argue with the appreciation (which makes them feel silly and stupid). This ruins the gift of appreciation and offends the giver!
Latest research suggests that when one person gives a compliment and the other receives it graciously, it raises the serotonin level in both human beings – it physiologically changes the brain of both people for the better. Pretty cool, right?

So go on, challenge yourself to develop a practice and habit of appreciation and enjoy the experience of your relationships flourishing!

Workshop: Welcome to the Family – How to improve relationships with your in-laws while maintaining your own emotional wellbeing

Discipline versus punishment – what is the difference?

Parents often use the words ‘discipline’ and ‘punishment’ interchangeably when they are trying to correct undesirable behaviour in children. The two terms, however, mean very different things and they have different outcomes for children and their parents.

Punishment: Essentially, punishment is about controlling children’s behaviour through power, control and fear. “I better not catch you doing that again!” is a common thing we tell children when we are threatening punishment.

Punishments can be:

Physical: such as spanking, putting a child in a time out or withholding something like food or the internet
Emotional: such as calling a child names (stupid, lazy . .), making them feel small or withholding love and affection from them.
Punitive: not being able to go somewhere or play with friends.

While punishments do seem to work in the short term to stop undesirable behaviour in children, they are problematic in that the lesson for children is to fear the consequences of getting caught. Parents find that punishments do not work in the long term: they have to keep intensifying the punishment to get children to behave appropriately.

Moreover, parents can never be sure whether or not the child will behave when they are not around. In the long term, then, correcting children’s behaviour through punishment can be exhausting for parents and stressful for the entire family.

Thankfully, there is another way to guide and train children towards appropriate behaviour. Let us understand the concept of discipline.

The goal of discipline is to train and teach children so that they can practice self control before engaging in inappropriate behaviour and learn to correct themselves when they do make mistakes.

When parents practice positive discipline at home, children learn to understand that their actions have consequences. They have greater insight into the outcomes of their behaviours and feel a greater sense of control and agency in their lives.

A key difference between punishment and discipline is that while punishment happens after the child has already made a mistake, discipline is proactive in that it trains the child towards appropriate behaviour choices.

The bad news about discipline is that it does take being more proactive on the part of the parent. It also takes more time initially to guide and train children rather than punish them reactively. In the long run, however, it is so much more effective and saves much stress and conflict for the entire family.

Here are the principles to RAISE your children with discipline:

Rules to guide behaviour: Children need to know what is expected of them. When parents take the time to set ground rules in the family, children get a clear idea of what is expected from them.
Highly effective parents not only set ground rules, but they do so after having a conversation with the children and explaining the reasoning behind the rules.
Appropriate behaviour is encouraged: Training children towards desirable behaviour means that we need to catch them doing the right thing and praise them for it rather than only pay attention when they are doing the wrong thing.
Inappropriate behaviour discouraged: There are many ways to discourage undesirable behaviour such as by ignoring it or providing appropriate consequences.
Setting for right learning environment: Training and discipline effectively requires that we set up the home environment for success. If we do not want our three-year-old to eat cookies before dinner, for example, it is a good idea to place them out of sight.
Example of the parent: This is a crucial part of effective parenting. If we want our children to behave in a certain way, the most effective way is to show them through our own behaviour.

So are you ready to RAISE your children with positive discipline? What are one or two rules that you plan to set in your home.

The myths and realities of sexual abuse of children.

Sexual abuse. Just the words evoke disgust and revulsion in us. “It cannot possibly happen in Muslim communities”, we tell ourselves. “Certainly not in our community”.

Sad as this reality is, sexual abuse of children can exist in all communities, including ours. According to stats of the American Psychological Association (APA), “Children of all ages, races, ethnicities, cultures, and economic backgrounds are vulnerable to sexual abuse.  Child sexual abuse occurs in rural, urban, and suburban areas, affects both boys and girls, and occurs in all kinds of neighborhoods and communities, in countries around the world. “

It is a difficult reality to grasp and an even more difficult subject to talk about. The problem is that experts agree that people who prey on children thrive in an atmosphere of secrecy and denial. Sexual predators have confidence that parents in a community such as ours will not consider this to be a risk and therefore will have taken no precautions to educate themselves or protect their children.

So a very important step in dealing with this ugly phenomenon is to get it out of the closet, confront the possibility and prepare to protect our children. Sometimes we may believe that talking about this subject is encouraging this behaviour and it is sending a message that our children are not safe in our own community, that we have somehow failed as Muslims. Actually the opposite is true. When parents are courageous enough to talk about this difficult subject, it sends a clear message that we are aware, that we take this risk seriously and that we have a solid plan for protecting our children.

So what is sexual abuse? The American Psychological Association (APA) defines sexual abuse as “unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent”.

While many parents work hard to protect children from strangers, it turns out that the vast majority of perpetrators are well known to the victims. They use their relationship with the child and the trust of the parents to get close to children in an inappropriate way. Also, contrary to what most parents believe, there is there is no such thing as a “typical” sex offender. You cannot generally tell by looking at a person that they engage in this deviant behavior.

How can we protect our children?

Be involved in your child’s life.
Get to know significant adults in their school, madressa and sports environments. Make it clear to these adults that you have a great relationship and open communication with your children. Make it clear that you trust and believe your children.

Encourage children to talk to you about their day.
Watch for signs that they are reluctant to talk about something. Assure them that they will not get into trouble.
Remind them that they can always come to you if they are unsure about how to handle something or are feeling uncomfortable about someone or something. Do NOT try and talk them out of feelings.

Have a two-adult rule for all activities that your child does away from you.
Request and advocate this in your school and madressa. This is a very good safety practice and conforms to Islamic ethics.

Notice ‘red-flags’ (especially) in males who are involved in your child’s life.
Do they only have relationships with children and are not with adults? Do they have lots of ways of entertaining children in their homes even though they may not have children of their own? Trust your instinct about not trusting someone even if they appear very friendly.

Do not force your children to hug and kiss ‘uncles’.
Encourage them to have boundaries around physical touch and coach them to trust their instincts. Do not let other adults who are related force your children to have close physical contact with them.

Notice significant changes in sleeping, eating, mood, or strange behaviors that do not quickly go away.
Get professional help if you are unsure.

Supporting a Family Member Trough a Mental Illness

Mental illness affects the whole family and yet many family members are completely unprepared for dealing with the effects on the family and often do not know how to best support their loved ones through this challenge.

In this session, we offer basic guidance on recognizing mental illness, what to do and how to recognize the limits of your abilities. 

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Habits of Highly Effective Communicators

Sometimes despite our best efforts what we want to say does not transfer to the listener. The impact of our communication is very different from what we intended.

What does good communication look like?

How do we develop good communication skills? 

We discuss these and many other questions in this live session.

Recording of a live session in Orlando for Doctors and Medical Students on Communication Skills 

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