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Friday, December 7, 2012

How to Host a Christmas Shepherd's Dinner

Last week I promised I'd share how to throw an awesome shepherd's dinner as a way to teach your kids the true meaning of Christmas. Well, it's Friday already and I'm just getting around to it. Hope you haven't been holding your breath! But 'tis the season to be busy--and throw in an elderly father-in-law with chest pains and  an unexpected surgery in the last week and get the picture. Life is all about family and I'm blessed to be a stay-at-home wife and mom available to help out in such situations. So on to the business at hand--throwing a shepherd's dinner!

The night Jesus was born, the shepherds were "watching their flocks at night" (Luke 2:8). You and your family are going to become one of these shepherds for your shepherd's dinner.

Costumes: Bathrobes; headdresses made of dish towels or cloths. Fasten your headdress with a headband or strip of cloth tied around your forehead.

Explain to your kiddos that shepherds were people whose job was to take care of sheep. They didn't just put out food and water for them like we do for our dog. They stayed out in the field with their sheep all night, watching over them so wild animals didn't come and hurt them. Remind them this is what a good shepherd does and that Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14-15).

If possible, have your shepherd's dinner outside around a campfire or outdoor fireplace. Then you can look at the stars and wonder which one might have guided the wise men. If you can't have your dinner outside, spread a blanket on the floor and have an indoor picnic.Maybe even stick some glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. Imagine what it would have been like to be watching your sheep like usual and suddenly see the sky light up with angels.

Engage your child's imagination by asking them questions, such as:
How would you have felt when you saw the angels in the sky?
What do you think that looked like? or Finish this sentence: A sky full of angels would be as bright as _____.
What would you have done when you saw the angels and heard what they said?
How do you think the sheep reacted?
Do you think you would like being a shepherd? Why or why not?
What would be your favorite part of being a shepherd? Least favorite?

Make your shepherd's dinner a fun event. Let the kids help prepare the food. Keep your menu simple, like they would have had in Bible times.

Sample menu:
Cheese and crackers
Bread and jam, honey, or hummus
Fresh or dried fruit
Nuts or seeds
Beef jerky or cooked meat

During your shepherd's dinner, read the Christmas story from either your Bible (Luke 2:1-20) or a children's picture book. A couple of my favorites are: "The Christmas Story" by Jane Werner Watson and "Room for Little One" by Martin Waddell. Talk about that miraculous night of Jesus' birth, but don't drag it out longer than the kids can listen. Keep it fun and allow for silliness. After all, you want your shepherd's dinner to be a tradition they look forward to year after year.

I pray you enjoy your shepherd's dinner. Fine-tune it as needed to work for your family. Most of all, remember the Savior, the greatest gift of the season.

Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Teaching the True Meaning of Christmas

In all the busyness of the Christmas season, it's easy to let its true meaning slip through the cracks of the rough manger bed. Is it really that important our kids hear the age-old story about Jesus' birth? Isn't it a little outdated and boring?

The answer is a resounding, "No!" That dusty old story, handed down through the centuries, loved by millions, is more than just a story to be told to your child. It's an anchor for his soul. It puts meaning into all the chaos. It whispers in your child's ear at night that Jesus was born as a baby just like he was. It makes Jesus someone your child can relate to. Your son or daughter can imagine Him as a baby, then as a child growing up. Telling the biblical Christmas story allows the Christ-child to be his Jesus, not just his parents' or pastor's.

So how do you get across this all-important story to a child? Here are some ideas for teaching the true meaning of Christmas:
  • Purchase a kid-friendly nativity scene. It can be made of plastic, fabric, or anything else that won't break. Encourage your child to hold the baby and move the characters around. There is no "right" place for each one to be. Help him to understand this isn't just another toy. It's special and should be treated with love and respect, just like the Bible is more special than any other book.
  • "Tell" the Christmas story with the nativity scene. Put only Joseph and Mary in the stable at first. On Christmas Eve, let your kids put the baby in the manger. Then let them arrange the angel and the shepherds. Wait to put the wise men in the scene until after Christmas since they didn't likely arrive until later, perhaps even as much as three or four years later! Or let your children act out the story with the nativity characters as you read it from an easy-to-understand Bible version or a children's storybook.
  • Provide simple costumes and props (bathrobes, scarves, towels, baby doll, stuffed animals) and have your children put on a play of the first Christmas.
  • Have your children create their own storybooks telling the Christmas story using their own words and illustrations.
  • Make a birthday cake for Jesus and decorate the house for a birthday party.
  • Talk to your children about what gifts they can give Jesus for His birthday, then place them under the Christmas tree. What would make Jesus happy?
  • Go outside at night and look at the stars. Talk about how the wise men followed a special star to find Jesus after He was born.
Another way to teach your children the true meaning of Christmas is to hold a shepherd's dinner. I'll explain how to do this in next week's post. In the meantime, keep looking for teachable moments and ways to point your children to Jesus at this hectic time of year. As the angels told the shepherds that night, "Fear not!" Your kids will get the important message of Jesus' birth if the message is important to you!

Christmas blessings!


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving Reflections

It's almost Thanksgiving! I'm looking forward to spending the day with my extended family. Everyone's coming to our house, all 23 of them!

I'm thankful for the opportunity to offer hospitality, love, and nourishment to each one of them. I'm also thankful everyone is bringing a portion of the meal, making my role a little less daunting. I'll provide the turkey and our traditional chicken noodles. The rest of the family will bring dishes such as corn, potatoes (both mashed and sweet), dressing, green bean casserole, rolls, pies, cranberry salad and chips and salsa. I eagerly anticipate the hugs of grandchildren, laughing with my sister, drinking coffee with my mom and enjoying my children--all rich blessings from the great Giver of all gifts.

I pray you have memory-making moments that last a lifetime. That you savor every blessing of life as much as you do the feast you eat. And above all, that you remember to thank the One who makes life worth living.

This is one of my favorite songs of thanksgiving. Maybe you'd like to sing it with your family before your meal, or even as your prayer this year. Many of you probably know it, but if you need to hear the tune, you can listen to it here:

Give Thanks
by Don Moen

Give thanks with a grateful heart
Give thanks unto the Holy One
Give thanks because He's given Jesus Christ, His Son (repeat)

And now let the weak say, 'I am strong'
Let the poor say, 'I am rich
Because of what the Lord has done for us' (repeat)

Give thanks

Thanksgiving blessings to you and yours!


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Thanksgiving Traditions

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday. I love that it begs us to stop and give thanks to God for all our many blessings. It asks us to look at life from a different perspective, one that isn't always wanting more, and to be content—yes, even downright thankful!—for what we already have. It's easy to forget year to year how we've grown and how God has blessed us. So in order for our family to remember how very blessed we are—not just one day a year, but throughout our lives—we have a couple of Thanksgiving traditions we continue to this day.
 The first and my personal favorite is the Thanksgiving tablecloth. My mom bought a white linen tablecloth a dozen or more years ago and some permanent fabric markers. She asked us all to write on the tablecloth something for which we're thankful. Every year we reuse the same tablecloth and add what we're thankful for or one way in which God has blessed us that year. We all sign and date our entry. This became particularly meaningful after my father died and we could see his writing on our tablecloth and remember his legacy of faith and thanksgiving. It's also fun watching the grandchildren grow and seeing their scribbles turn to actual writing. It's a linen journal of thanks that we gather around as we eat the traditional feast each year. And because we use permanent fabric markers, the tablecloth is washable.

The other tradition is newer, only a few years old. In the Bible when people saw God at work in their lives, they often built a memorial to God out of rocks. It reminded them of what happened at that place and gave them opportunity to tell their children of God's faithfulness to them. I set a basket of smooth river rocks, usually two to three inches in diameter, in a basket. Each person takes a rock and writes on it what he's thankful for or a way God has worked in their life. They can then take the rock home and start building their family's thanksgiving memorial. It's also a way to share your faith as people see your pile of rocks and ask what it is.

There are so many ways to acknowledge God's goodness to us. It doesn't matter how it's done, only that you recognize the Giver of every good and perfect gift. So gather ’round the table and give thanks!

What Thanksgiving traditions do your family practice? If you don't have any, do you plan to start some? What will you do?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Positively Strong-Willed

I have a strong-willed child and I'm so thankful that I do. Not that it's easy, as any parent with a strong-willed child will attest. But there are some definite positives to raising a child with a strong will.

I remember talking with my daughter when she was around seven. Her strong will had been rearing its defiant head more than usual that day. Now it was bedtime, a time to reflect on the day. I recall saying something like this to my girl. 
"You have something called a strong will and that can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you use it."
She nodded and looked down. She knew we'd had a bad day just as much as I did.
"When you use it to disobey, even when you know what's right, it's the wrong way to use it. But when your friends ask you to do something you know you shouldn't and you tell them no, then that's a good way to use it. Do you understand?"
Another nod.
"I'm glad you have a strong will. I know you'll use it the right way most of the time. We all make mistakes and wish we did things differently sometimes. Remember that I'll always love you, no matter what."

That little girl is now almost seventeen and has used her strong will in the best ways possible most of the time. She's her own person, to be sure, and isn't afraid to take the road less traveled if she believes it's the right one for her. She isn't easily bent by peer pressure.

Here are a few tips for parenting your strong-willed child:
  • Don't try to squelch your child's strong will. Be thankful for it and try to channel it in positive directions. As your little one grows older, it can be a huge asset in helping him stand up for what's right and stand against what's wrong. Peer pressure evaporates when a strong-willed child says no. And they help weaker friends make good decisions.
  • Tell your child about this amazing gift called strong will that God placed inside her. Make sure you keep your comments positive. I sometimes referred to it as a super-power!
  • Remind your child how God would have him use his strong will. This comes in handy when your child disobeys. He can be determined to make good choices with that stubborn will as well as bad.
  • Give choices when possible. This gives your child the ability to make her own decisions, yet stay within the boundaries you've set.
  • Pray for him to learn submission when necessary. A child can't always get his way. Try to empathize with him when he has to submit. "I know you feel frustrated that you can't do it your way this time.. But it's Mommy's turn do it her way." Or, "I can see you're disappointed (or angry, or whatever). I'm sorry. But I really need your help with this." Give consistent consequences for noncompliance.
Most of all, pray for yourself as you raise this child. As parents, we always need wisdom and God is glad to give it when we ask (James 1:5). Ask Him to give you eyes to see the good in your child and that you'd be able to guide his strong will in positive ways. I know you'll find a delightful child lurking behind all those "No's!"

Do you have a strong-willed child? How do you know? What tips can you give for raising such a child?


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Proper Perspective

Finally brothers and sisters, keep your thoughts on whatever is right or deserves praise: things that are true, honorable, fair, pure, acceptable, or commendable. Philippians 4:8 (GW)
I'd read that verse a hundred times or more throughout my life. It always made me think of my behavior, my thoughts, the things I should or shouldn't do. But when I read it this time, I thought of my parenting skills.

I've recently struggled with my teen about school work, how it sometimes isn't getting done when it should. Normally, we get along great, but in this one area we sometimes experience conflict. Then I read this Bible verse in my morning devotions and it slapped me in the face. Have I been keeping my thoughts about my daughter on what she does right and that which deserves praise? Are my eyes open to the things about her that are true, honorable, pure, acceptable, and commendable?

Too often, I let areas of challenge overshadow all the good. As parents we often get so caught up in correcting our children and shaping their character that we forget to notice what they do right. My daughter is exemplary in most ares of her life. That's remarkable for a sixteen-year-old! She's strong in her faith, has a great sense of humor, is kind and compassionate, and gets along with almost everybody. 

So today I vow to keep my thoughts on whatever is right or deserves praise: things that are true, honorable, fair, pure, acceptable, or commendable, especially in regard to my daughter. And guess what the next verse says? "Then the God who gives this peace will be with you." Ahhh. I'll gladly trade yesterday's stress for God's peace today.

How do you keep your mind on the things this verse mentions? Why is it so easy to let the negative crowd out the good we see in our children? Or is it? Leave me your thoughts in the comments below.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

One Thing a Divorced Parent Should Never Do

I know, I know. One shouldn't use the words "never" or "always," or for that matter, "should." But I'm breaking that rule today because, well, “never” actually applies in this case. Let me start by saying I was a divorced parent. My husband chose to leave me when I was four months pregnant with our second child. Our daughter was two-and-a-half. I was a single parent for almost five years. I made LOTS of mistakes. This blog post isn't big enough to list them all. But I carefully avoided doing this one thing--bad-mouth my ex to my kids.

I did not marry a saint, nor did he. But regardless of his character, he still held the honor of being my children's dad. That's all the reason I needed to keep from speaking ill of him in front of my kiddos. But in case you need a few more reasons, I'll gladly supply them.
  1. A child's identity is tied to his parents. Children know they inherit more than height and eye color from their parents. Therefore, when you bad-mouth their dad, you bad-mouth them as well. They may wonder if they have the same bad trait you just said your ex does. Children, no matter how young or old, do not need this self-doubt, especially coming from a loving parent.
  2. It reflects poorly on you more than it does the person you're speaking badly about. This is true even when you're not dealing with kids and exes. 
  3. It will come back to bite you. Never fails, one of the kids will slip and tell the other parent what you said. Do you really need more stress in your relationship with your ex?
  4. You'll set a bad example for your kids. Speaking unkindly of anyone is a bad example. Doing it about someone they love is downright cruel. Bite your tongue until it bleeds if you have to.
  5. It puts your child in an awkward position. No child should be put in a position where they have to defend their parent. It's unfair and improper. Don’t put your child in the middle of a disagreement between you and your ex. 
So what do you do when your ex is a person of terrible character with serious bad habits and issues? (These suggestions do not apply if your ex is abusive to you or your children.)
  1. Discuss a negative aspect of your ex only if your child brings it up. Say things like, yes, your dad smokes and that's a really bad habit. He made a bad choice when he was younger and I know he wishes he had made a different one. But that doesn't mean he's a bad person. He just made a bad choice, like we all do sometimes.
  2. Pray with your children for their other parent. Remind them that God loves him/her, even when they make poor choices. 
  3. Teach your children to respect their parent. It's a biblical principle that we honor our parents (Exodus 20:12; Matthew 19:19). Respecting someone is not the same thing as condoning bad behavior. It means you honor their position as a parent, just like you want others to respect you as your child’s parent. You can teach your children to be kind, respectful, helpful, and so on, in regard to their other parent, even if they don't deserve such treatment. They're still the parent God gave them and He instructs your child to honor them.
  4. Protect and support your child. If your ex is unkind (not abusive) to your child, speak up on his behalf. Let your ex know how it made your child feel. Try not to project your feelings into the conversation. This conversation is about defending your child, not your feelings or your style of parenting. Support your child by letting him know he can talk to you about his other parent without fear of judgment or a verbal attack on your ex. Let him know you understand and will always try to help him have a good relationship with his other parent.
  5. Above all, pass your faith on to your child. It will be a strong foundation for this, and all, his relationships. Love your child through the difficult times and pray for them and their relationship with your ex.
As your children grow up, they'll respect you for not giving in to the temptation to speak ill of their parent. Your ex's true character will become evident to your child in time without your negative input. 

How have you handled a less than perfect ex? How have your children coped? Any tips you can give for keeping your lips zipped when you want to bad-mouth your kids' other parent?


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Teaching Your Child to Tell the Truth

We've all stood aghast and listened as our child told a whopper of a lie. Sometimes they're so outrageous you don't know whether to laugh or cry! Some lies seem harmless and indeed may be. But others can signal deeper integrity problems that must be addressed. How to know the difference? And how can you tell for sure when your child is lying and avoid falsely accusing him?
When my children were young I used to ask them one simple question to ferret out lies. I'd say with a smile, "Is that the truth or is it just a good story?" This paints the child in a good light either way so they're more willing to admit if they just told a lie. It also helps them differentiate the difference between truth and fiction. If it turned out to be "just a good story," I'd say I really liked it, but in this situation, I really need to know the truth. I'd explain it's important to tell the truth when asked so people will know they can trust them. Then I'd ask them again, what the truth is for that situation. They usually were glad to tell the truth then. I made sure to praise them for their honesty and being so trustworthy.
Here are some reasons kids lie:
  • They're afraid of getting in trouble. Who hasn't done this? In our house, the penalty for breaking a rule was greatly reduced or even done away with if they told the truth about it the first time asked.
  • They want to look important. This could signal some self esteem issues. Make sure you praise this child every time you catch them doing something kind, or performing a chore well. Praise them more for character traits you notice than performance. Also, give them responsibilities you know they'll succeed at. Everyone needs a job and a purpose to feel good about themselves. Praise them for their hard work or perseverance, even if the results aren't perfect.
  • They don't know truth from imagination yet. Children younger than five years old may have a hard time knowing what the truth is because their imaginary play world is so real to them. So help them learn what's real from what's pretend before meting out any punishments for lying.
  • To protect someone. This is especially true of older kids. Their friends may do things you wouldn't approve of and your child may lie to keep their actions from you, even if they themselves aren't participating in them. They may fear you'll cut them off from their friend. Assure your child of your love and concern for them as well as for their friend. If possible, partner with them to help the friend. Pray for him and for your child to be a positive influence in their life. Encourage your child to do the same.
Lying can become a prevalent problem that erodes relationships if not addressed when a child is young. Pray for discernment and wisdom as you guide your child toward a life of integrity. And keep a good sense of humor and laugh at the outrageous when it's obvious he's just telling a good story!


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Handling Separation Anxiety

I know you probably think I'm talking about your baby's separation anxiety. But I'm talking about yours--and mine. Parental separation anxiety, you might call it.

I'm getting ready to go on a trip to Hawaii with my hubby and our best friends. We leave this Thursday (so there won't be a new blog post next week). Our sixteen-year-old daughter is staying home with my son and his wife, who are currently living with us. I admit I'm already beginning to suffer from separation anxiety. You'd think I wouldn't suffer from this since my daughter is almost grown. But alas, once a mother, always a mother.

Here are my symptoms.

  • I can't sleep well because I keep wondering if she'll be all right while we're gone. She just started online school this year. Will she keep up? Will she get lonely? Discouraged?
  • I start thinking of food items I should buy for her to enjoy while I'm gone. Though we're only going to be gone for a week, I usually end up buying more than she could eat in a month.
  • I wonder about how often I should check in with her while we're gone. I don't want to be too annoying, but I don't want her to think we've forgotten about her either. What's the perfect balance?
  • I start lining up rides so she can get to her various activities. If one falls through, she'll need to call someone for backup. 
  • I go into laundry overdrive. Heaven forbid she run out of clean clothes before I get back! 
So many things to think about! And of course once we're on vacation, I'll start looking for the perfect souvenir to bring home to her.

I don't consider myself a worrier. Just a good planner. :) And really, I know my girl will be just fine while we're apart.

I just hope I will be.

How do you handle your own separation anxiety? What are your symptoms?


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Disciplining with Love

Disciplining with love sounds good, right? But it's so very hard in the frustration of the moment! How can it be done? Here are a few ideas.

1. Set clear expectations. If you expect your child to obey the first time he's asked, then set a consequence if he doesn't. If your expectation is that he comply by the time you count to three, set your consequence based on that standard. Whatever your expectation, make sure he knows and understands it before an infraction occurs and let him know the consequence. Be consistent in whatever you establish.
2. Make the consequence fit the crime. If Jr.doesn't pick up his toy when you ask, the toy gets put away where he can't play with it. It ties the infraction to the consequence. It tells the child, "You can't play with the toy if you won't put it away." Tell him when he can have it back and stick to it, regardless of whining or complaining. Did he hit his friend? He must apologize and may not continue playing if he won't be kind. Did he talk back to you? A time out may be necessary until he is ready to say he's sorry. Be matter of fact when you explain these things to him. No need for anger. These are simply the rules and you must follow them.
3. Don't raise your voice. Children will listen better and feel more respected (and therefore more likely to respect you back) if you stay calm and have a conversation with them. If they've disobeyed you, sit them down and tell them how you feel. Explain why you need them to do what you asked. Tell him you need his help by obeying. Remind him your family is a team and you all need to work together. He's an important part of the team.
4. Don't shame. When you correct your child, don't shame him. Instead, encourage him. Tell him what he did wrong. Assure him you understand he's still learning and wants to do what's right. Give him the opportunity to make a better choice. Help him figure out what options he could do next time.
5. Always hug your child after disciplining him. This shows him you love him even when he's less than perfect. Remind him we all make mistakes and the main thing is to try not to keep doing the same wrong things over again.Tell hiim there's nothing he could ever do to make you stop loving him. This gives him a firm foundation of love so he doesn't have to act out so often.
6. Apologize. No matter how good your parenting skills, you will always have moments where you "lose it." Give yourself some grace. God does! Remind yourself that you're still a good parent even when you make mistakes. We all do the best we can at that moment in time. Above all, go to your child and tell him you're sorry for getting angry. It models humility and doing what's right even when it's hard. When you apologize, you let your child know it's okay to be less than perfect and lets him be more honest around you.

If your child is simply unmanageable, you may need to get family counseling. There could be deeper issues that require professional help. Don't be afraid or embarrassed to seek it out.

How do you discipline in love? Do you believe in spanking? What alternatives are there to it?


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Always Assume the Best

Imagine that while you're unloading the dishwasher, your child goes through the kitchen and opens every cabinet door and drawer he can reach. 

You have no idea what he's doing, but it's a little annoying. All those open doors make it hard to move around in the kitchen and you keep running into them. You can react in one of two ways. Tell him to please close the doors because you're trying to put away the dishes and the open doors are in your way. Or thank him for his help in opening all those doors for you so you don't have to as you unload the dishes. Though it may be a bit more inconvenient, I suggest the latter response.

Any time you can put a positive spin on something your child is doing, as long as he's not deliberately doing something wrong, then do it. When in doubt, always assume your child was trying to be helpful or kind or good. It will help him see himself in a better light and he'll try to keep doing things to please you. 
Or how about if your child pulls out every DVD on the shelf, opens each one and lays them all on the floor? What a mess! But what an awesome opportunity to thank him for his help in matching all the DVDs to their correct cases as you work together to pick them up. It becomes a fun matching game instead of a battle of wills to clean them all up.

There's an interesting by-product of assuming the best about your child. It affects the way you see him, too. 

It is so easy to notice the things a child does wrong. After a while, it's hard to see what he does right. But if you make a habit of seeing the good things he does, pretty soon, the wrong he does fades into the woodwork. The whole parenting world seems a little less hopeless and daunting. You find delight in raising this amazing child! 

So train your eyes to put a positive spin on your child's behavior. He'll be happier and so will you.

Have you tried this? What effect did it have on you and/or your child?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

5 Ways Raise a Good Kid

I recently saw this poster on Facebook and it really struck a chord with me.

Why? Because I was so often guilty of it when I was raising my kids. I'm on my last child now, and she's already sixteen. I've done most of the child rearing that I'll need to do. And guess what? She's a really good kid!

Here are some things I wish I'd remembered more when I was in the thick of raising my kids:

1. Reflect to your children who you want them to be, not necessarily who they are right now. If you want them to be kind, tell them what a kind person they are. Helpful? Praise their helpfulness, even if they initially complain about helping. If you see a germ of a positive character trait in them, tell them they're so good at being that way. They'll eventually start seeing themselves as you do and living up to your expectations. You're holding up a mirror for them to see themselves as the best person they can possibly be.

2. Give them purpose. I was terrible at this. I was a mom who didn't like making my kids do much in the way of housework or any other work, really. I figured they're only young once and they'd get their share of adult responsibilities soon enough. The only problem with that is it deprives them of a sense of purpose. Kids need to be given chores so they feel useful and valued. By helping out, they feel a part of the family team. It also helps them prepare for adulthood, so they  can enter it confidently, with the skills they need to succeed.

3. Teach them to serve. Contrary to what your kids may think, it's not all about them. They need to learn to think of others as much or more than themselves. Point out others who are in need and ask them what they think could be done to help them. Then help them take action and do it. Soon, they'll be able to make this association on their own without your prompting. Let them make cookies to take to an elderly neighbor or make cards to encourage someone who's sick or lonely. Have them do someone else's chores just to surprise them. Talk with them about the great feeling serving others brings.

4. Give them something to believe in. Kids learn very quickly that people aren't perfect and will unintentionally disappoint them. Believing in a Supreme Being is both a huge comfort and an anchor in their lives. How wonderful to know that when humans let them down, there is a God who can always be counted on and is completely trustworthy, even in the worst situations. Studies show that when children are raised in some sort of spiritual upbringing, their faith grounds them in a way nothing else does.In rating kids' happiness,  spirituality weighed in more heavily than temperament and it lessened specific health related issues. You can read more specifics about one such study here.

5. Teach them to laugh at themselves. How? By laughing at yourself. Children often learn their sense of humor from those around them. They also learn coping mechanisms by observing others. So when you're in an embarrassing situation or one that is awkward or uncomfortable, laugh it off. Show your kids how to lighten up, not take themselves so seriously. It immediately takes off a lot of pressure and tension and often diffuses difficult circumstances.

Obviously, there aren't any sure-fire ways to guarantee your child turns out happy, responsible, successful--in a word, great. But doing these five things as consistently as possible will get them (and you!) off to a good start.

What other tips can you give for raising great kids? Share them with the rest of us in the comments below.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Preparing Your Child for Their First Day of School

In most places, a new school year is about to begin. If you're sending a child off to school for the first time, here are a few tips for getting him ready, physically, emotionally, and spiritually for that big day. 

  • Make sure your child has a say in what he wears. It's important he feels comfortable and confident. 
  • Serve him a healthy breakfast with plenty of protein.
  • Get him to bed early the night before so he's well rested.
  • Buy school supplies such as backpack, lunch box, pencils, etc. the week before. That way he won't have to wait too long to use them and he’ll knows he’s prepared for school, which provides him peace of mind.
  • Meet your child's teacher and visit the classroom ahead of time if possible to help reduce fear of the unknown.
  • Talk only in positive terms about her going to school, even if you feel sad about sending her. 
  • Acknowledge your child's fear if she says she's nervous about going. Assure her it's normal to be nervous about new things. Give her something tangible to take with her as a token of your love. Some parents kiss a handkerchief or the palm of their child's hand  and tell her she has one of their kisses with her if she needs it. Others have given a small rock for her to stick in her pocket to remind her that God is her rock and her strength. 
  • Build your child up throughout the week before she starts school. When you see her being responsible, helpful, smart, funny, or a good friend, mention it and use it as an example of how she’s so ready for school. This will increase her confidence level.
  • Pray with your child about starting school and choosing good friends in the days leading up to that first day. Then pray together before you leave the house that first morning, and if possible, every morning. Be sure to thank God for how smart and ready your child is, as well as asking Him to help her have a great day and school year.
  • Encourage your child to find someone in his class that seems to need a friend and try to play with him or her or eat lunch together. Start early to grow a heart of compassion in him, keeping his eyes off himself and on others and their needs.
  • Remind your student that God will be with him at school and that he can pray silently by just thinking his prayers and God will still be able to hear him. Tell him you'll pray for him from home or work, too.
  • Talk to your child about choosing good friends that will help him stay out of trouble and living like God would want him to.
Sending your little one off to school that first day can be an emotional time. But with proper preparation, you can rest assured you've done all you can to guarantee his success. After that first day is behind him, celebrate with a special dinner or an ice cream treat. He did it! And so did you.

How are you (or did you) preparing your child for their first day of school?


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

5 Ways to Tell if Your Child is Ready to Stay Home Alone

You long for the day when you can leave the house without children or hiring a babysitter. Will it ever come? When? How will you know if he's ready to stay home by himself? Here are a few guidelines to consider:

1. Does he follow your rules? If your child generally follows your rules without complaining about them, he may be ready to try a short time alone at home. A child who regularly butts heads with you should be told that by increasing responsible behavior and decreasing complaining, he'll get closer to achieving that goal.

2. Does he feel ready to stay home alone? Some children are not comfortable staying alone even in high school while others are perfectly content to try it in fourth or fifth grade. Never leave a child alone who doesn't want to be left, nor hint that there's anything wrong with him if he doesn't. Everyone matures in their own time.

3. Does he know what to do in an emergency? Unless a child has the maturity and presence of mind to remember to call 9-1-1, run to a neighbor's house for help, or follow other emergency procedures, he shouldn't be left alone.

4. Does he know how to use the telephone effectively? Children who don't know how to use the phone or avoid using it because they're not comfortable with it aren't ready to go solo.

5. Has he proven his responsibility? You know your child's responsibility level better than anyone else. If he takes initiative to do things he should without always being pushed, he may be trustworthy enough to handle the responsibility of being home alone. You are the best judge of that.

If you feel your child meets the above criteria, I'd start with a short trial in the daytime. Maybe a quick run to the grocery store. Try to keep it to a half hour or less. Then assess how he did, what he did while you were gone, and how he felt about being home alone. If all was well, you can start increasing the time little by little.
Note: Always write your contact information down for your child in case he needs to get in touch with you. Assure him he can call you for any reason, even if he just feels scared.

Some children like their parents to pray with them before they leave. This gives the reassurance that they're not truly home alone since God will be there with them every moment.

It's exciting to see your children grow into a responsible people. Let them know how proud you are of them!

At what age did you start leaving your children home alone? How did it go? 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Disciplining Children With Nonverbal Cues

Ever feel like you're talking to a brick wall when it comes to disciplining your kids? Seem like nothing you say is heard or obeyed? Maybe it's time to come up with a different discipline strategy. If you're tired of talking and having to say the same things repeatedly, why not try silent discipline?

Start disciplining with nonverbal cues. Sit down with your children and talk honestly with them. Tell them you aren't happy with how the disciplining has been going. Own up to the fact that you may not have been as respectful to them as you should have been, if that's the case. Never mind that they may have been disrespectful to you, too. Apologize and ask their forgiveness. Tell them you're willing to try a different way of discipline if they'll be responsive to it. Explain that you'll use nonverbal cues when you need them to do something differently. Let them help you decide what the cues will be. Here are a few suggestions:

Nonverbal Cue                                                    Translation
Hand on child's arm                                               You're talking back, please stop
Shaking head                                                         No. That's unacceptable.
Index finger pointing up.                                         Please wait. I'll be right with you.
Hand on heart.                                                       I love you.
Thumbs up                                                            You're doing great!
Hand up                                                                 Stop
Index finger to lips                                                  Quiet

It may be that your child might like to have some nonverbal cues to use for you, too, such as:

Hand on your arm when you're talking to someone     I need to say something.
Finger twirling in the air                                               I have to go to the bathroom.
Tug on his ear                                                             I'm bored/I'm ready to go.
Hand cupped behind ear                                             I didn't hear you.

Of course, many parents use standard American Sign Language with their children, too, and find it to be useful, especially for nonverbal children. Using cues ratchets down tension. It keeps parents and kids from yelling at each other and it bonds you because you have a secret code no one else knows. There's power in a loving touch. It conveys so much more than spoken words. Nonverbal cues work beautifully with some, but not all, children. So if you're frustrated with verbal communication with your kids, try it! Even a slight diversion from the norm is a nice break for everyone and it may make your usual form of communication easier to hear if you return to it.

Do you use nonverbal communication or discipline with your children? What are your cues and how do they work?


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

10 Free Ways to Be a Fun Parent

I know, I know. You're thinking If it were easy to be a fun parent, we'd all do it. True. But what's not to love about something that's free and fun? You've gotta try these. Really. You'll feel better.

  1. Play with your child. This could be a board game, Barbies, video games, on the playground, in the backyard, wherever. Join in the fun rather than stand on the sidelines. You'll definitely move up a few notches on your child's most admired list. Don't worry about looking silly. Kids think it's funny when parents play at their level.
  2. Skip. That's right, skip. When's the last time you did? Take hold of your child's hand and take off together. Skip as high as you can. It's exhilarating!
  3. Sing. Can't carry a tune in a bucket? All the better. It'll just add to the fun. Sing to your child. Sing together. Let him sing to you. As your child grows, so will their groans when you sing. But then again, so will the memories you're making together. Don't forget to laugh at yourself and never criticize your child's singing.
  4. Teach them cool tricks like whistling or clapping with one hand.Is there a weird skill you learned as a child? Can you draw something in a special way? Can you still do a cartwheel? Can you speak in a funny voice? Show it off to your kids and teach them to do it too. They may have some freakish skill they can do, too. Let them teach you in return!
  5. Laugh and smile. As often as you can, at the very least daily. If you're not much of a laugher, start by smiling more often. Smile at your child, your spouse, anything you find amusing or appealing. This will ease you into laughing out loud. Laughing eases tension and raises the fun factor incredibly. It also makes you more approachable, which is critical to your child's security. As a reminder, tape a smiling face to your bathroom mirror.
  6. Be silly. There are plenty of ways to do this. Here are a few. Make silly rules like you have to whisper all day. Wear wacky clothes. Make up holidays. 
  7. Surprise them. Say yes when they expect a no. The delight on their faces is totally worth it. For example: Can I have dessert before supper? Yes! Better yet, offer it before they ask. Or how about when you see them sitting around doing nothing you say, "What are you doing just sitting there? Why don't you go jump on the bed a while?" A couple jumps isn't going to kill anyone or anything and a surprise statement like that scatters boredom like nobody's business.
  8. Love their friends. Invite them over. Make them snacks. Converse with them. Take an interest in what they're interested in. This will score big points with your kids.
  9. Be childlike yourself. Don't be so concerned about being a responsible adult. Be willing to be undignified for a while. Get dirty. Use your imagination. Be creative. You may enjoy it!
  10. Encourage and praise them every chance you get. Above all, do this one. Let them try things their own way, even if it doesn't turn out as well as your way. The unspoken message here is "I trust your judgment." Praise them for their efforts, not the results. Point out their positive character traits (i.e. kindness, perseverance, honesty) rather than their achievements. Encourage them to keep trying at things that are tough. Always, always cover necessary criticism or discipline with love, as if this one mistake was just an aberration of their usual great behavior and judgment. 
None of these suggestions cost you a cent. As a matter of fact, I bet you'll find you're paid back in spades (or giggles and hugs) if you do just some of them some of the time. Your tension may decrease and your fun factor increase in the process! Go for it!

How do you have fun with your kids?


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Forgiving When Children Disappoint

No matter how great your kids are, they will probably disappoint you. I'm not talking about small disappointments like forgetting to pick up their toys or clean their room when you ask. I mean deep disappointments that hurt your heart and make you wonder what their future holds.

When they lie to you about where they've been, announce they're pregnant, experiment with drugs, or consistently break curfew, how do you forgive them and keep loving them? Obviously, there are no easy answers. But here are ten things you may want to consider.

  1. Remember your child is trying to find his way in the world. He will make mistakes. Just because he's using bad judgment now doesn't mean he always will. 
  2. Look for any positive quality in your child and focus on it.Let him know you appreciate that quality. For instance, "I love how you're so tender with your girlfriend. You'll make someone a wonderful husband someday." You act as a mirror to your child. Hold up a positive image of him so he can live up to it.
  3. Catch him doing something right and either thank him for it or comment on it. If he picks up his dirty dish and carries it to the sink, thank him. Or say, "You're getting really good at picking up after yourself." Show him you notice the good in him and not just the bad.
  4. Hold him accountable. Let natural consequences be his greatest teacher. If your child won't get up to go to his summer job, let him sleep. Eventually, he'll get written up or fired. Great! This will teach him he must be responsible with his job if he wants to have the money he wants or needs.
  5. Don't make his problem your problem. You can advise, pray, and possibly help, but if he wants to make a bad decision, he will, and there's not much you can do about it. Talk to him about it and decide what the consequences will be.
  6. Speaking of consequences, set them and stick to them. Or better yet, let your child decide what he thinks his consequences should be.Often, they're harder on themselves than you would be.
  7. Pray for your child and let her know you're praying for her. Even if she seems to resent it, I believe deep down, she appreciates it and even expects it.
  8. Keep showing affection. It doesn't have to be hugs and kisses, but a pat on the back, a hand on the shoulder or a smile from across the room convey that you're happy they're your child no matter what you're all going through.
  9. Keep a sense of humor. What would happen if you laughed instead of got mad? How much tension would that eliminate from your home atmosphere? Try it. You'll love the result.
  10. Offer grace. Your child blew it in some way. He expects a punishment of some kind, but seems to be genuinely sorry for what he did. Surprise him by wiping the slate clean. No punishment this time. It's what God did for us when he let Jesus die in our place. We were forgiven when we didn't deserve it and you can give your child the same experience. It sends him a powerful message of how deeply you love him.
When children disappoint us it feels like the end of the world, but it's really not. Keep in mind that most parents disappoint their children, too, so we're all on level ground. Keep loving, laughing, and praying for your child. God has them right where he wants them and is teaching them things an easier path may not have. And don't miss the lessons he's teaching you on this journey. It's all good when it's in God's hands.

How have you coped when your child disappointed you? How have you handled it when you disappointed your child?


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

10 Tips on Taking Your Kids to the Ball Park

You're a baseball fan and you'd love to include your kids in your outings to the ball park,.but the thought of corralling your little ones in a confined space for three hours is daunting. Will they be bored? Whiney? Will it be a waste of money?

Your experience at the baseball game will undoubtedly be different with kids than without them. Expect to miss some plays and not be able to tune into the game as much as usual. But it can be an awesome family time that you all enjoy. Here are a few ideas to make your time at the ball park fun and memorable for all of you.
  1. Teach your kids patriotism. Stand, put your hand on your heart, look at the flag, and sing the National Anthem every game. And don't forget to stand, stretch, and sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" or God Bless America" during the seventh inning stretch. 
  2. Let your kids take along a toy or two. Our youngest used to take her Fisher Price farm and play with it when she got bored.
  3. Don't worry about dirt. Kids are washable, so if they want to sit on the ground in front of their seat and use it as a table to eat or play, let them. That's where our daughter used to play with her farm and it worked great. Just make sure whatever you put on the seat is heavy enough to hold the seat down so your're not catapulting hot dogs to the row behind you--which, by the way, the kids would want to do over and over.
  4. Listen for the organ music and clap along with the crowd. This keeps the kids involved and active. Whatever fun things are done at the park, participate. Clap, stomp, howl, wave, or do whatever the music calls for. We used to sometimes clap each other's hands in high-five fashion just to switch it up a bit. And don't forget to watch the jumbotron (or whatever your park calls their huge scoreboard) for signals on what's happening. Chase Field in Phoenix where the Arizona Diamondbacks play has a muscle cam where people show off their muscles, a kiss cam when the couple the camera lands on has to kiss, a mustard, ketchup, and relish race where you cheer for your favorite condiment, and lots of other fun stuff.
  5. If your child is getting restless and there's a kid zone or playground in your ball park, visit it. This will give the kids something to look forward to if they're not into the game. And leave the game early if you need to. As your children get older, they'll be able to last longer periods of time if you make this a fun excursion now, rather than a marathon.
  6. Teach the kids how the game is played and where to look for the score.
  7. Let kids make signs to hold up during the game.
  8. Get treats. It's part of the fun of the ball park. Whether it's a hot dog, ice cream, or cotton candy, make it a special outing and splurge a little.
  9. Encourage your kids to yell and cheer. This is really fun for them because they're usually told to quiet down. Now's the time for that outside voice!
  10. Relax. Don't take the game too seriously. Your kids don't need to see you angry at umpires or cussing out players who mess up. Set an example of good sportsmanship.
Above all, have fun with your kids. Laugh. Enjoy the time you spend with them at the ball park because there may come a time they won't want to go with you. Respect their choice. No pressure. No guilt. When they're grown, chances are, they'll remember fondly the times you spent there together and may even take their own kids one day. And if not, so be it. It's just a game. The time you enjoyed together is never wasted.

How about you? Have you taken your kids to sporting events? How did it go? What did you do to make it successful? Any mistakes you hope not to repeat? Let's talk sports!


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Favorite Vacation Spots

As I write this, we're on vacation in San Diego, CA. We spent our first evening at Seaport Village, our first day at Sea World, our second at the San Diego Zoo, and today at the Safari Park and Birch Aquarium. Tonight, our last night here, we sat on the beach and watched the sun set while eating ice cream. The sunset wasn't that great because it was a gray day. But we were on Dog Beach and got to watch lots of dogs romp in the sand and surf with their owners. And the ice cream was delicious! It was the perfect ending to a day with our animal loving daughter.

Some of our best vacations have been at the beach. We love the beauty of it, looking for shells, and the versatility it offers. Where else can kids (and Dad!) play in the water or build sand castles while I luxuriate in reading a good book? We also love hitting theme parks and amusement parks. One of my personal favorite vacation activities is visiting lighthouses. I'd love to visit them all some day!

What about you? Where have your favorite family vacations taken place? What do you love to do on vacation? Are there theme parks you'd recommend? Are there some nice, low-key spots your family loves to chill out? Let's talk vacations! 


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fun Food!

When my kids were little, they loved to eat food that looked like other things. It made it so much more fun! One of their favorites was hotdog men. They're simple, inexpensive, and are sure to bring a smile!

Cut a hotdog lengthwise about halfway up.

Make lengthwise slices on either side of the uncut half for arms.

Cover and microwave for 30 seconds.Remove. Your hotdog man's arms and legs will be curled out and sometimes the body is a little bent over. Just like real people, no two are alike!

Add a face with mustard or ketchup. Then let your creativity take over. Here are some ideas for decorating your hotdog men--or women!

  • Cut cheese slices for clothes
  • Use a lettuce leaf or a sliced pineapple ring for a skirt
  • Use shredded or canned squirt cheese for hair
  • Cut black olives for shoes
  • Make a hat from chips
  • Add whole cloves, raisins or chocolate chips for buttons.
The possibilities are endless! Kids love to decorate their own hotdogs. Who doesn't like to play with their food? 

How would you decorate your hotdog man? What other fun food ideas have you done with your kids? 


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dealing with Teen Homework Stress

At the end of the school year, high school kids have so many projects due, papers to write, and tests to take, it can become stressful and overwhelming for them--and for parents.This picture pretty much describes how I'm feeling at this time of year. I can't imagine how the students feel!

So how can you support your student as he finishes out the year? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Be available. This doesn't mean you have to be in the same room helping with the homework. But it does mean you're in the house, ready to assist if needed. Or even if your help isn't needed, just having you around makes him feel less alone. I remember my mom staying up late into the night, just lying on my bed as I finished a paper in high school. It made me feel supported, like I wasn't having to go it alone.

2. Provide encouragement. Check in with your child from time to time to see how it's going. Take them a snack or something to drink. Without actually doing the work for them, ask if there's anything you can do to help. Offer praise for her perseverance and tenacity. 

3. Allow breaks. The mind can work only so long before it starts zoning out. Schedule some breaks to avoid those unproductive times. After a couple hours of hard work, give your teen 15-30 minutes to check his Facebook page, take a shower, or get a snack. Then he'll be more refreshed and ready to tackle the books again.

4. Provide rewards. When your teen has finished her paper or is done studying for the test, reward her for her hard work. Take her out for ice cream or to her favorite coffee shop. She'll know that her efforts haven't gone unnoticed.

5. Pray for your child. This one probably should have been at the top of the list! Praying for your child reminds him that he has a higher power at work for him. What to include in your prayers? I pray that my child will remember the things he's studied, that he'll include all the necessary elements in a paper to get a good grade, that he'd do his best, not just the bare minimum, and that God would honor his efforts. For especially hard subjects, I pray that God would give my child a mind that would understand that subject. 

At the end of this week, my girl will be done with another year of school. I can't wait for summer! How about you? Are your kids out of school already? Or are you still slogging through end of the year school projects? What are your summer plans? 

I'd love to hear from you!


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Weeding Out Toys

At our house, by summertime, we always had too many toys. Between birthdays, Christmas and maybe a few random purchases, the toy box would be overflowing. What to do? Here's the method we chose.
  1. To start out with, designate a special area to put all the toys. You can use a playpen, a blanket on the floor, or the bed. Pull out every toy from the toy box, hanging net, under the bed, wherever toys are kept and put them in this designated area.
  2. Look at the pile of toys with your child and thank God for giving your family so much.
  3. Have your child pull out his top ten favorite toys and put them where they belong (back in the toy box, on a shelf, in a hanging net, etc.).
  4. Have your child pick out his next top ten toys and put them where they belong. Continue this process until the various toy storage areas are full. Once an area is full, your child may not put any more toys there. 
  5. When all the storage areas are full, there will probably still be toys in the designated area. Provide your child with a list of charities to donate them to and respect your child's choice. 
  6. Talk about the children who will receive the toys. How do you think they'll feel? What will their faces look like when they see them? What will they do when they get them? Pray for these children and the joy they will have playing with their "new" toys.
  7. Marvel at the number of toys your child still has and give thanks for them.
  8. Put the toys you're donating into boxes or large trash bags to take to the donation site. Bring your child with you when you drop them off. Do this as soon as possible after weeding out the toys.
The good thing about weeding out toys this way is that your child still gets to keep all his favorites and the decisions on what to get rid of and what to keep are all his. I'd add one other suggestion. If there is an extra special toy or two that your child loves, they should be exempt from the weeding out. This would be the ones that your child sleeps with every night or takes everywhere, or maybe one that has special sentimental value to him or to you. 

From the weeding out day forward, we had a rule that if our child got a new toy, then she had to find one of her old toys of equal size or value to get rid of. That way she knew there was always a price to pay for every toy we bought, even before she could understand the value of a dollar. It also minimized an overabundance of toys. 

There are lots of ways to weed out toys. A friend used to take half the toys and put them away until July, when she'd bring them out again. I've heard of others who "rotate" the toys," while others have yard sales and let the kids keep the proceeds or use it for a mission project.

What about you? How do you avoid being overrun with toys? I'd love to hear from you!