Keeping love alive

Good morning!
When I wrote yesterday about taking charge of creating happiness in our lives, it made me think of how we also think of love as something that happens to us. People feel like they have no control over love. A couple who have been married for several years might feel like the love has gone out of their marriage because they don’t feel that warm glow anymore. Well, love is a noun describing a deep attachment, but it is also a verb. We may not have a lot of control over the warm glow itself, but we do have control over a verb. We can chose to keep the love alive in our relationship. The amazing part is that if we chose to love, we can re-create that glow.
Living with another person is difficult. We all have our own preferences, and we’re never going to find another person with the same exact preferences. I don’t really think it would be healthy if we did. There are so many situations that just don’t matter, though. For example, a toothpaste tube left uncapped, a toilet seat left up, a dishwasher stacked the “wrong” way…what do those things matter compared to being a good parent, being a supportive spouse, or being a moral person? Perhaps the same person who leaves the toilet seat up also takes care of getting the car fixed. In other words, for every negative thing that occurs, there is at least one positive thing, if one makes the effort to find it.
When your spouse or significant other does something that riles you, I suggest you take a moment to think of something kind they have done recently. My husband and I have been married for over forty years. We don’t have all the answers! All I can offer is that as a psychologist, I know focusing on the positive is important for mental health. It can also be important for keeping relationships alive.
My husband and I have very different personalities, but honestly, I think we’re both better people than we were when we first got married.
Early in our marriage when he did something that drove me nuts, I learned that if I pictured him gone, at first that seemed a positive thing. But when I pictured him with another woman, oof! That was worse than whatever was driving me nuts. He is a good man and a good father. When there was something negative, I took a moment to picture him curled up with our girls in a rocking chair, reading to them. Of course, after a few minutes, he would fall asleep, and the girls would be crawling over him. The memory never fails to bring a smile to my lips.
There will be times when a person you live with drives you crazy—not in a psychological way, of course. But working on a relationship means keeping the big picture in the front of your brain. Don’t let one tree spoil the forest.
When people are drowning in chores like laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, etc., it can be very difficult to keep the romance alive. It is important for both parties to make an effort to do so, because our lives are richer when we share them with another person who is important to us.
In the Baha’i Faith, marriage is called A Fortress for Well-Being. Life is difficult. We are healthier and happier if we have someone to help us hang on during the tough times and to celebrate with us when we make it through.
My life is better with my spouse, even though there may be times that I forget that. I have to remind myself what is really important in life.
My life is also better with my extended family. Even though my siblings and I have divergent political beliefs, we still love each other. We live far apart, but work to get together at least once a year. I am happy when I’m with them because they are more important than politics.
If we keep families together, we can keep countries together, and we have a shot at world peace.

The pursuit of happiness

Summer is drawing to a close. Teachers (and thus, psychologists working in the schools) go back to work next week. For the last several years, this has caused the onset of depression for me. I love my work, but since moving to Minnesota in 2003, I’ve struggled with the 6-month winters.
I love Minnesota, but I get cabin fever by the end of January. It might be because I was raised in the southern part of Iowa. We actually had spring in March. You know, when spring is supposed to come. Native Minnesotans encourage me to try one of the many winter sports in an effort to have a positive relationship with winter. I tried several. That’s probably a story unto itself, but let me just say I am less than adept at winter sports.
Last year, we had three snows in October, and still had a snow day in mid-April. The length of the winter was particularly difficult, and I was talking about retiring early, let me tell you!
We can’t always run away from our problems, though. So my husband and I have worked hard to set up things that will help us get through the winter with happier moods. (Apparently I share my unhappiness with him.) We’ve (he’s) built raised beds with a lattice background. I put the flowers in, and they are wonderful, but I know they won’t be around in the winter. Therefore, we bought several birdhouses and painted them bright colors. They are hung between eight and ten feet off the ground. I’m hoping the snow does not get that high.
We also installed a huge fountain with lights. (Yes, I helped with that.) The sound is peaceful, and we’re going to run some windshield-washer fluid through it to keep it running down to around 10 degrees above zero. [Note: We put netting over it to keep the birds out, so they won’t get sick. We installed a heated birdbath for the birds.]
And that’s another thing. I get a great deal of enjoyment out of watching the birds at birdfeeders, so we hung four of them up to be able to see from different windows. I used to keep birdfeeders years ago. I don’t know why I never got them out when we moved to this house.
In the winter, I tend to not go anywhere after the sun goes down…except home from work. My husband and I have resolved to go to events at least once a month during the winter months. That may not sound like much, but believe me, with our schedules, it’s a great start.
I realize you might not care about my difficulty with winter, but I wanted to make a point about dealing with things we don’t like, but can’t get away from. It’s a good idea to spend some time figuring out what makes you happy. Then you can work to surround yourself with whatever it is. Too often, we treat happiness as something that might happen to us…or not. Taking an active role in getting things that make you happy into your life gives you some power. You can impact your own happiness instead of waiting passively for it to occur.
This is also a good idea for your children. Help them figure out activities that make them happy. Their first idea might just be asking for more toys, but you can help them realize that more toys won’t make them happier. It’s really more specific than that. Trust me, there are a lot of wealthy people who have a lot of toys, and they are no happier than those of us who are not wealthy.
I have a great niece who started showing pigs at 4-H projects when she was about eight years old. She does not live on a farm. She was given the opportunity by a neighbor who had pigs. You might be surprised to know that I used to have no idea what showing pigs was. I’ve seen her do it now, though, so I at least know what it is. She’s good at it. She’s gone to national competitions for it…and won. Now at the age of 13 or so, she’s still into showing animals, and her passion has spread to her cousins who are now all involved in 4-H projects.
They are learning responsibility. [Did you know the pigs have to be walked twice a day???? This is on top of their school activities.] These children are polite, courteous, and well-behaved. They have found a wholesome activity that involves the entire family. And they have found…happiness.
You’re welcome to give it a try!

Why? Why? Why?

I can’t believe it’s been a week since I last wrote! I’m trying to work up to at least two blogs a week, but obviously, I am not there yet!

I describe right-brained learners in my book, but I have another example I want to share. I hope you will excuse my telling a story about my grandson. I know grandmothers can be tiring, and since I think being a grandma is the best thing ever, I fear I might be the most tiring of all!

In the book, though, I mention how right-brained learners need to know where they are going before they can take the first step. That scene from one of the Raiders of the Lost Ark series where Harrison Ford steps into nothingness over a deep crevasse only to have a bridge suddenly appear??? That would not be the right-brained processor. “Let me know where I’m going, and why it’s important, then I’ll take a step.”

My grandson is five years old. He will start kindergarten in the fall (next month!), so my daughter is working on his letters with him. He loves story time before bed, but the rest of the day, he prefers moving….Even if he’s playing with his trains, he will play for a few minutes, stand and jump, jump, jump, then sit back down to play some more. He’s known colors and shapes for a long time, but has shown absolutely no interest in learning his letters. The lessons have not gone well.

That is, until about a month ago. He was complaining once again, and finally looked at his mother and asked, “Why do I have to learn the letters?”

She gave him a look of disbelief, and answered, “So you can learn how to read!”

He stared at her with wide eyes….a look of disbelief that was way more impressive than hers had been.

“I GET TO LEARN HOW TO READ?????!!!!!!!”

“Yes! When you learn your letters, you can learn to read words, and then you’ll be able to read books by yourself!”

Since that day, he has been working diligently to learn the letters and sounds. If my daughter can’t work with him, he asks for PBS shows that teach reading skills. Amazing. How many times have we, as parents, just expected our children to figure out on their own why we’re doing something, or simply expect them to do it because we tell them to? I know, explaining takes time, and time is a precious commodity. But efforts you can manage in the small amount of time you have will likely have a surprising pay-off.

I believe my grandson will probably be a right-brained learner, which is all right even though schools don’t often work well for right-brainers. My daughter is the queen of right-brained learning. We used Tinker Toys and Legos to get her through chemistry, and it worked! Also, her husband is an engineer, so he understands the right-brain process. You know, “What do you mean, read the directions?? I’ll just figure it out.” Right-brained folks are the ones who look at the picture, then they know how the puzzle works. They learn by taking things apart and putting them back together (hopefully). The interesting thing is that my grandson is adopted. He’s got the perfect family!

Most children learn best by doing, and honestly, I believe elementary schools are generally better at providing that opportunity than middle or high schools. Science labs are “doing,” but although they could be interesting or even fun, I’m not sure that I often made the connection to what I was supposed to be learning. Connections are difficult, and they are the most important things with which parents and teachers can help children.



Tressa Reisetter has a new book out for parents:

Getting to Know Your Child’s Brain.

Here’s the link:

Villages for Parents

I was at a summer school session last weekend, and I met a woman who was getting an advanced degree in marriage and family therapy. I admire her so much! She is in her late forties and has two children whom she is raising alone. She has had to work full time while going to school, and supporting her family.

Her children have been very supportive of her, even though it puts more housework on them, and they don’t get to have her around as often. This has been a dream of hers, and her children have worked beside her, helping her to achieve it.

So how did she get such amazing children?

Well, when they were younger, she taught Baha’i children’s classes in her home one day a week. That’s like Sunday school for Christians. They worked on developing virtues such as generosity, kindness, and patience. The mom worked on developing virtues in herself as well.

As her children got older, she has maintained her connections in her faith-based community. This community has become the “village” for her children.

The saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is true. In previous decades, multiple generations stayed in the same vicinity. Sometimes they were even in the same house. This provided a build-in support system for young parents.

These days, young families often move out on their own, taking jobs in cities far from their familial base. When they have children, parents can become isolated, exhausted, crabby, and depressed. Even with two parents, the energy it takes to raise happy children can be overwhelming.

I can remember many days when my husband got home from a hard day of teaching. He needed to rest, but I said, “I need a break. You are primary parent for a while.” He never complained (almost). I just needed a break, even if it was cooking dinner without interruptions. In order to keep a positive attitude towards your children, it is vitally important that you have the energy required. It takes a lot.

It is important for parents to develop villages for themselves as much as for their children. Faith villages are a good option, whether parents are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Baha’i, or any other religion. The important part is the network of people with whom you, as parents, feel a certain amount of commonality. Villages can also be generated from common interests. For example, single parents who enjoy taking their children swimming might meet other parents would also enjoy swimming. Personally, I believe faith-based communities work well because there’s already a sense of love and acceptance, as well as the basis of the Golden Rule. All religions (of which I am aware) have some sort of quote in their Holy Writings that says to treat others how you would like to be treated. But you are your own individual, so I’m confident you can find someone to bond with. The important thing IS to bond.

This is particularly important for single parents. There are plenty of other single parents out there who would also benefit from working on developing a support system. Perhaps you and another single parent could find apartments close to each other. Maybe there’s already another single parent living near you. It might even save money to share a place, but it would be a really good idea to make sure you get along well first.

I used to plan that if I won the lottery, I would build or refurbish an apartment building for single mothers and their children. Daycare would be on site, and each family would have to be involved with helping to provide various services such as daycare, picking things up at the grocery store, etc.—things that a spouse is often asked to do. Even though I don’t buy lottery tickets, I think it would be a good idea!


Tressa Reisetter has a new book out for parents:

Getting to Know Your Child’s Brain.

Here’s the link:

Talking Helps Reading

In Getting to Know Your Child’s Brain, I note that the brain is not pre-programmed to learn to read. I want to expand on that a bit today.
Humans are programmed to communicate. We are very social beings, even if some of us prefer to interact with a few people, and some prefer to interact with many people. The number of languages being used in the world today is astounding…all stemming from the need to explain our needs and thoughts to others. When humans are born, their hearing is the most advanced of all senses. We are already listening to the sounds around us, using sounds to make meaning out of the new world. Vision is way behind!

At the neuropsychology conference in San Diego that I attended earlier this year, a paper about what parts of the brain are used during reading was presented. [For reference, it was “Universal brain signature of proficient reading: Evidence from four contrasting languages,” written by J. Rueckl, P. Pas-Alonso, P. Molfese, and many others.]

The authors were interested in what parts of the brain were used during reading, and if that changed with different languages. They included brain scans from people reading Spanish, English, Hebrew, and Chinese. The scans were amazingly similar. In fact, the “similarities outweigh differences, especially with respect to print/speech integration.”

The individuals utilized the visual parts of their brains as well at the auditory areas in all four languages.

Why would people use auditory areas to read? Apparently, since language begins with listening and copying what others say to us, our auditory processing is physically integrated with our understanding of the printed word. That is likely one reason why phonics is so important for learning to read, and is associated with strong reading skills.

We need to train children to associate auditory information with the symbols they see. It might also be the reason that I find it difficult to read when music is playing. As a musician, the music I’m hearing takes precedence over my auditory association with the words I am reading.
The authors of the paper found that less skilled readers could be differentiated from skilled readers by “the degree of print/speech integration in key LH [left hemisphere] circuits.” They went on to conclude that early speech and motor deficits in children made them more vulnerable to reading disabilities later.

Conclusion: Talk to your children…a lot. Use words at their level, but also words that you might feel are too difficult for them. That will help them progress in auditory language, which could help them be better readers later.
A child’s own speech also is associated with their ability to read later.

Note: when doing research with humans, we can never say there is a causal relationship. We can’t say “this causes that” because humans are so complex, there is no way to make a clear cause. We can say, however, that people who did “this” had a statistically more common occurrence of “that.” It’s all about relationships!

So we can say that children who learned to talk later than their peers had a higher occurrence of reading problems later on. Tests that measured children’s receptive (incoming) language and those measuring expressive (outgoing) language were both associated with reading outcomes. Strong receptive and expressive language was associated with strong reading.

Parents were asked to rate their child as an early, on time, or late talker. Then the children were given a test for reading words accurately. (They did not have to know the meaning.) The early talkers scored highest, the on time group was in the middle, and the late talkers had the lowest scores. Keep in mind these were large groups of children. There are always exceptions, but as a group, the early talkers were also better readers.
What we can take from this is that parents need to talk to their children, even from a very early age. And they also need to take time to listen. That isn’t always easy because young children are not necessarily efficient communicators and parents are busy. But time spent listening, even if it doesn’t seem like the child is saying much, is extremely important. They are developing important skills. Grandparents can really help here!

If your children are older, don’t give up. Children are resilient, and it is not impossible to make up for lost time! Reading opens many doors for all folks who are lucky enough to have that ability. Give your kids or grandkids the keys!


Tressa Reisetter has a new book out for parents:

Getting to Know Your Child’s Brain.

Here’s the link:

Vacation is an opportunity for brain growth!

July 5, 2018

We’re just driving home from a week of camping in northwest Minnesota. For those of us who don’t like cross-country skiing or riding snow mobiles, summer is the best time for exploring northern Minnesota. But what amazed me is that so many communities—even a couple with fewer than 200 people—have city campgrounds. For the price of one night in a nice hotel, a family can stay for about a week in a city campground. Remember how the book (Getting to Know Your Child’s Brain) talks about providing stimulation for brain development? There’s plenty of it in small towns.

We stayed in Thief River Falls, but took time to also visit Warroad, Roseau, Baudette, Crookston, Red Lake Falls, and Grand Forks. I read two books and did several crossword puzzles. We stopped for a walk near the lake at Bemidji on the way home. We put our canoe on Lake of the Woods, but it was a really windy day, so we didn’t go too far. In Baudette, we fished in the Rainy River. It was really cool to know that the other side of the river was Canada. My husband caught many fish on the trip, but only when I wasn’t with him. Apparently, I’m bad luck, but he lets me go with him when I want to anyway.

The rivers provide opportunities to swim, fish, kayak, or canoe. There were families from the towns themselves who had brought kids to the parks for all of those activities. The kids were having a blast and there were no computers in sight. I am not saying that video games are horrible. But when children can use their imaginations and get exercise at the same time, that’s a really great thing! Both of those things stimulate brain growth, so together, they’re a double plus.

The Pioneer Village at Thief River Falls was interesting, but one thing that struck me was that it was started in 1938! Before World War II, before computers or cell phones, the community was interested in preserving the heritage of the area. It made me think that in less than 100 years, we will be the “old pioneer days” to future generations.

There are statues and historical markers that explain small bits of Native American history. What we white immigrants did to Native Americans was not pretty, but it’s important for our children to know what happened.

Many of the towns also had bike trails or walking trails. The ones in East Grand Forks and Grand Forks were truly lovely, and the two towns put on a big celebration for the fourth of July.

If you don’t want to pay for a hotel, try camping. If you don’t want to camp, try to get out for the day at least. There’s a lot out there, and your children will be richer for it.


Tressa Reisetter has a new book out for parents:

Getting to Know Your Child’s Brain.

Here’s the link:

Marshmallows teach us a lot!

I was at a fantastic conference for neuropsychologists two weeks ago. That’s where other blogs have come from, and future ones will as well. I also just purchased a book on the importance of sleep on the neurological development on the brain. You all are in for a treat!!

One of the presentations at the conference (given by Ida Sue Baron, PhD, ABPP) talked about the marshmallow test I learned about in graduate school. I believe the original study was done in 1972.

Four- and five- year-olds are seated at tables in a classroom. They are told that they will be given one marshmallow to eat, but if they keep themselves from eating it while the adult steps out of the room for two or three minutes, they will get a second marshmallow. Eat one now, or wait and get two later.

You can probably guess. Many of the children ate the marshmallow right away. But the interesting thing is that those children who were able to wait and therefore earned the second marshmallow did better in school.

Dr. Baron shared that approximately 600 of these children were revisited twenty years later. The children who ate the marshmallow were described as frustrated, impulsive, indecisive, and disorganized. The children who earned the second marshmallow were described as self-reliant and confident…and they had higher SAT scores. The children who had eaten the marshmallow were also more prone to obesity.

The question for us as parents, then, is: can we teach our children to be patient? I don’t know that a study has actually been done, but I firmly believe that we can. There are so many physiological changes in the brains of our children as they grow, we have a lot of influence.

My problem is that I don’t consider myself very patient. How can I teach patience? Well, one way is to have children earn rewards over longer and longer periods of time. For example, if there is a toy they want, have them do chores around the house and earn money for them. They can save up to then buy the toy themselves. This approach also helps teach children about money management. It is also more gratifying for the child to have made such a wonderful accomplishment.

As a country, I think we are all prone to buying things right when we want them. That partially explains the vast amounts of credit card debt we have. Rather than save for something, we tend to buy first and think, “Well, I’ll get it now, then make payments instead of saving and then buying.”

The problem with that is that we end up paying more for the item because we pay interest as well. And credit card interest is HIGH!

It’s a good idea to let grandparents in on the plan, too, though.

I usually give the coins in my purse to my grandson (age 5) when I visit. The last time I gave him coins, he put them all in a bank labelled “toys.” As he was putting them in, I asked why it was labelled. He told me that he had two other banks. One was labelled “savings” and one was labelled “Fund.” (That one was for the Baha’i Fund, which would be similar to the collection plates in churches.)

I asked, “Would you like to put some coins in those banks?” (He was now nearly done with the task.) “No,” he said. “I’ll just put them in here.”


Tressa Reisetter has a new book out for parents:

Getting to Know Your Child’s Brain.

Here’s the link:

Still at the conference…. silly feelings

Someone’s in my chair! Being silly, of course.  It’s funny that when people return to a place such as a class they’re taking or church, they tend to go to the same chair (or pew). Even if there’s a gathering at a home, and we take a break, we go back to the same place we sat before. Why do we do it? I have no idea.

I was in a particular seat yesterday afternoon and this morning, but when I came in for the session after lunch, someone was sitting there. What’s up with that?

Okay, it really doesn’t matter, but I do feel a bit …displaced. I wonder if this could be linked to the human need for consistency. We go into a large room full of strangers, find a seat, and it’s like we stake out a territory, and it must be maintained. I’ve seen it in classes I’ve taught with college students and at other workshops. If we’re like that as adults, what must it be like for children—entering a new school, encountering a new child in the class, in the neighborhood, or in the family. I don’t know the research on this topic. This is just an observation. But I do know that adjusting to change can be no big deal to some, irksome to a lot, or disruptive to the lives of a few. There is actually a DSM-5 diagnosis for Adjustment Disorder.

It is important when changes are coming up to prep ourselves and our children. Talk about how it might make us feel and how we can seek to understand another perspective.

Entering a new school can cause a child to feel a lot of anxiety. If possible, arrange for your child to meet one or two of the children in the class before they have to go to the school. The teacher can help with this process.


Tressa Reisetter has a new book out for parents:

Getting to Know Your Child’s Brain.

Here’s the link:

Between sessions at a conference in San Diego….the importance of sleep

A good night’s sleep, and I’m ready to go. Yesterday I was only able to get about 5 hours of sleep because of travelling from MN to CA after a full day’s work. Ugh. Sleep is so important!

In this country, we tend to live with the attitude, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Funny…but not. Without good sleep, we’ll likely get there sooner, or at least enjoy the journey less. I read fiction a lot, mostly mysteries. Characters are often going without sleep and functioning really well. Now that IS fiction!!

The brain does not sleep while we do. It needs that time to essentially clean up the mess of information you’ve taken in from the day, as I described in my book. Military experts on torture and terrorists know that sleep deprivation is a form of torture. Without sleep, vision suffers, one can’t think clearly, and eventually even hallucinations can occur. That actually makes sense, as I read in a book years ago. [The Chemistry of Conscious States by J. Allan Hobson, M.D.] Dr. Hobson wrote that dreams are part of the chemical system that controls sleep. There is a cycle involved. Hallucinations are essentially dreams that occur while a person is awake. That’s an oversimplification, but you get it.

I had nightmares all of my life until I started taking an antidepressant to help me sleep. Decreasing nightmares was not listed as a side effect, but I’m glad it was! Still, I wouldn’t want to experience my dreams while I am awake. Scary!


Tressa Reisetter has a new book out for parents:

Getting to Know Your Child’s Brain.

Here’s the link:

Children are learning all the time!

When I was younger, there was a popular saying for parents to say to their children: Do as I say—not as I do.

That doesn’t work. I’m hoping that the people who said it realized that it was a joke, but I honestly don’t know. Children will do what you do far more frequently than they will do what you say. When you think about it, it’s really not fair or realistic to hold children to a higher standard than adults can reach. If parents are not able to keep themselves from using bad language, their children will cuss. If parents say derogatory things about people who are different from them, their children will believe it and repeat it. That’s what prejudices are—judgements made from hearing it from someone else rather than getting the facts on one’s own.

Think of the children around you as being sponges and recorders at all times. They learn by copying…not necessarily by listening. You are always on stage, being watched and imitated.

That’s a rather heavy burden.

Parenting is not easy, and unfortunately, we have little training for it. We tend to parent as we were parented. But the fact that you are reading this blog makes me think that you want to be the best parent you can be. Good for you!!

So going forward, remember that none of us is perfect. The absolute best thing you can do to be a good parent is to consistently love your child, and I suspect you’re pretty good at that already.

The next best thing is to see the good things in your child and help them develop. This also works for ourselves. Looking at the good things in other people helps us stay positive in a world in which negative things are thrown at us on all sides. There are good things happening, but we often have to look harder to find them. On the other hand, if we make that effort, it will help combat depression.

The bonus here is that if we parents work to find the positive in others, our children (and grandchildren) will copy us more completely than if we just say, “Be nice.” Bullying is rampant in our schools, and in society in general. For some reason, when we find the ethics that we choose to live by, we believe that we are right, and anyone who doesn’t agree with us is wrong. Whether or not I believe in something simply doesn’t give me the right to think less of someone for disagreeing with me. Each person is a child of God. If we berate those who are different, our children learn to berate those who are different, and the culture of bullying is perpetuated.

I remember my parents discussing that people from equatorial countries were lazy. They operate on a “do it tomorrow” approach. Then years later I heard a wonderful explanation of where that prejudice came from. People from Europe, particularly northern Europe, have had to plan carefully to be able to have food for the winter for centuries. In these times, it’s not an issue, but it certainly was before. As a culture, then, we have become efficient planners. If we don’t, we starve.

In equatorial climates, however, it is always planting season. If we’re starting to run a bit low on food, we plant more. There’s no winter to fear. There’s no need for planning. Such a simple explanation. But when I was young, I believed my parents. I know better now.

Just remember, you are teaching your children every minute of every day. Hang in there!


Tressa Reisetter has a new book out for parents:

Getting to Know Your Child’s Brain.

Here’s the link: