Kids Will Be Kids (No Matter What You Do)

Our children’s behavior reflects on us, it’s true. But there are some things we just can’t control. This month on www.pastorswives.com, I share about one time that happened to me.

Finally! Our three-year-old was old enough to sing in the preschool children’s choir. She was so excited; we were so proud. Sure, it was “Jesus Loves Me” (or something similar), and sure, every church kid ever has done the same thing. But this was our child: our cute, sweet, well-behaved little girl. I put her in her best dress and made sure her pigtails were even for her big debut.

You know something embarrassing is about to happen, don’t you? Catch the rest here. Then leave me a comment over there or pop back in here with your thoughts. Pastor’s wife or not, what do you think?

Our kids will act like kids because they ARE kids. (click to tweet)

Goal-Setting for Children

Even though it’s only mid-December and the biggest event of the year is still ten days away, I find myself already looking toward the new year. I’m not big on making resolutions, but I do like to use the fresh year as a kicking-off-point for new habits or emphases. If you’re the same, you know it takes forethought and prayerful consideration to implement meaningful change—in ourselves and in our children.

In Shepherding a Child’s Heart (which I also mentioned last week), Tedd Tripp offers guidance on how and why we, as parents, should set goals for our children. There’s no need to rehash that. Let’s look instead at what sort of goals we might set for our children.

In my parenting, I often come back to this one verse.

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. -Luke 2:52

(I wrote about Luke 2:52 as a guide for prayer in the past.) When we think about the young Jesus, we know he didn’t grow up in a vacuum. Joseph, Mary, and others influenced his maturity. I’m a little jealous; that must have been the easiest parenting job ever! For the rest of us parents—the ones raising non-God-incarnate children—it’s even more important to intentionally influence every facet of our children’s maturation.

This verse provides us with four areas of growth. Applied to goal-setting, the short version looks like this:

1 achievement, 1 skill, 1 spiritual growth, 1 relationship

Let’s brainstorm some ideas.

Wisdom: intellectual development

violin-close-up
music lessons (c) Carole Sparks

Set one goal related to their education, learning, or other thinking/mental skills. This could be a skill or an achievement. Some possibilities:

  • Learn to read chapter books.
  • Improve average grade (overall or in one subject) by one letter grade.
  • Attend a special class or camp that emphasizes an area of personal interest such as environmental sciences, computer coding, painting, soccer, etc.
  • Learn to play an instrument or, if they already play, learn a significantly more difficult piece.
  • Learn another language such as sign language or Spanish. Connect this with their social development by finding someone they would like to talk with.

Stature: physical development

gymnastics-assist
gymnastics assist (c) Carole Sparks

There’s not much we or our children can do about their height or shoe size, but we can help them practice a healthy lifestyle or improve their fitness. Set one goal related to their physical development, also either a skill or an achievement. Something like…

  • Learn to ride a bike.
  • Learn a new sport.
  • Achieve a new level in their existing sport. For example, earn the next belt in karate or make the varsity team in his/her sport.
  • Accomplish a fitness goal such as running a 10-minute mile.
  • Learn to eat three new healthy foods.
  • Learn to cook something specific, learn a certain type of cooking, or learn how to do some household chore. (Don’t just say “learn to cook.” That’s too broad to measure.) Last year, my oldest learned to use the washer and dryer. This year, maybe we’ll focusing on cooking some simple dishes.

Favor with God: spiritual development

11-21 read Bible story (2)
(c) Carole Sparks

How can we help our children grow closer to God through the year? Consider one of these or something else that fits your child’s interests and current maturity level.

  • Become consistent in having a daily quiet time or personal devotion.
  • Memorize a certain number of Bible verses. (Personally, I’m planning to memorize twenty-four passages in 2017!)
  • Work on one aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) such as kindness or self-control. This one will take some extra effort on your part, parent, to find actions and/or practices specifically targeting this one thing.
  • Begin paying attention and/or taking notes in “big church.” Start with once/month or five minutes/sermon.
  • Learn a certain number of Bible stories (great for younger children). Maybe one per month?
  • Improve upon one spiritual discipline such as meditation or generosity (great for older children).
  • Read a certain numbers of books related to spiritual growth. I’m challenging my teen to read one non-fiction book per month, mostly faith-based. John Piper’s Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ is a great one for thinking teens to start with.

Favor with Man: social development

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kid spectators (c) Carole Sparks

Without a little encouragement, our children fall into relationship ruts just like we do. Talk with them about how they want to grow this coming year. Some options might be…

  • Intentionally make a new friend at school or church.
  • Reconcile with someone they don’t like or with whom they had a fight. This starts with praying for that person.
  • Learn how to make “small talk” with adults.
  • Compliment/encourage someone every day.
  • Learn another language so they can talk to someone in that person’s “heart language.” (See intellectual development above.)
  • Learn a technique for diffusing conflict—one they can practice with siblings.

 

As you look toward 2017, pray through what sort of goals God is leading you to set regarding your children. Ask Him to reveal areas where they need purposeful intervention, bringing them into the conversation at an appropriate level. For my older children, they fully participate in the process, but younger children may need more guidance from you.

After you’ve set your goals, don’t just leave them at the level of ideas. Goals need action plans or steps toward fulfillment. Sit down with your kids and discuss the small steps that will lead to big growth in 2017. Look at your own life, too. We have to model before we can teach. This is why I’m signing up to learn twenty-four Bible passages this year. I need accountability for my own spiritual growth, and I want to model the importance of Scripture memory to my children.

And finally, follow up! Through the year, revisit the goals. Are you seeing growth? Do you need to adjust something? Are they experiencing the difference? Encourage them to stay faithful to the task…and you stay faithful, too. Jesus grew up at the same rate that our children do. He didn’t achieve wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man in one day or even one year. This is an eighteen-year process, parents!

Then celebrate at the end of 2017! Recognize your children’s achievements. Talk about how they’ve grown and what changes you’ve seen.

As you anticipate Intentional Parenting in 2017, I pray this brainstorming session helps you set significant, achievable goals for and with your children. If you’ve been encouraged, please share this post using the tweet below.

4 #IntentionalParenting goals to help our children grow in #2017.

What goals are you setting in 2017 for your children or for yourself as a parent? Join this brainstorming session (in the comments below), and you’ll be helping us all!

Parents, Embrace the Now

One of my children often asks me, “Mom, what was your favorite age for us?” And I always say the same thing: “I’ve loved every age you’ve ever been, and right now is the best!” In truth, the age of nine wasn’t my favorite with either one, but there were enjoyable elements even then.

It’s easy, especially when your kids are in the “terrible twos” or that smart-aleck almost-tween age, to wish that “phase” completed. We set our sights longingly on some future day when “things will be better.” But the truth is more balanced and more practical. Every age of every child has good and bad elements.

If we’re going to do the Intentional Parenting thing and be obedient to verses like these below, we need some kind of game plan.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  -Ephesians 4:29

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today.”  -Hebrews 3:13a

Turns out, it’s relatively simple: embrace what’s happening right now.

So don’t get caught up waiting for the kids to be potty-trained or start Kindergarten or have a driver’s license so you can stop chauffeuring them everywhere. Instead, embrace the now: Actively search for things to enjoy at the age your children are right now. Focus on that. Focus on making memories and laughing and affirming your love for them. This kind of focus will carry both you and your children through the…lets call them “rough patches” (like 9-years-old was for me).

While you’re enjoying what you have right now, watch for how God is working in and through your children—working for their spiritual growth and for yours!

Interactive idea: Look through some old pictures with your children. Tell them a funny story about themselves or just talk about what you loved about them when they were that age…and that age…and that age. If your children are grown (or close to it), consider making a scrapbook—manually or digitally—with a picture of them from each year. Use candid photos you took rather than staged school or portrait studio photos. Include a hand-written note with a special memory from that time—the kind of memories that can’t be caught in a photo. It doesn’t need to be something important, just something treasured.

That’s all I have to say today. Not because I don’t have time to write more but because you’ll need to supply your own examples here. Take the extra minutes you would have spent reading this post (because it’s usually longer!) and recall something you loved about your child when they were two or three years old.

Parents, stop wishing for the end of this “phase” and Embrace the Now! (click to tweet)

Have something you really loved about your child at a certain age? Please share it in the comments below. Your words could encourage another parent who’s facing that time right now!

Praying Peace Over Our Children

 

Well, we made it through Halloween, and now “the holiday season” begins in earnest. This is the time of year I simultaneously anticipate and dread, both personally and as a parent. Intentional Parenting through the holidays brings a special set of challenges that include travel, overindulgence (of food and gifts), missed bedtimes, and, as always, The Santa Question. For our family, the concerns have moved past Grandma’s uncovered electrical outlets and into issues of greed (“She got more presents than me!”) and getting along with extended family members (“My cousin hit me!”).

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Praying Peace Over Our Children (c) Carole Sparks

Speaking of cousins, excitement and anxiety are clearly first cousins, and easily confused by those who don’t know them well. This year, I want to keep the excitement in check and the anxiety at bay by using Scripture to pray peace over my children. Even more current, our national elections are a week away (!), and there’s tension throughout the country. If your children are feeling it, use these prayers right away to remind them of Who is in control.

We can be confident that our prayers align with God’s Will when we repeat His Word back to Him…and there’s something about saying Scripture out loud that increases its impact for everyone who hears it. So pray for your children in front of them. Lay hands on them if you’re comfortable with that. Substitute your child’s name for “my child,” if you want. Join me in blessing and encouraging our children through these verses!

Read Philippians 4:4-7, then pray verse 7.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Dear God, I pray that your peace, which we will never completely understand, will guard the heart and mind of my child through the presence of Jesus, our Lord.

I love the active, protective image of peace here—that it shields our emotions and thoughts. Anxiety eats away at our emotional condition, but God’s peace keeps us whole…and wholly His.

Read John 14:26-27, then pray verse 27.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Lord Jesus, we understand that your peace remains with my child, that you have given it to him. Thank you that this gift of peace isn’t given in the way the world gives. Help him guard his heart against trouble and his mind against fear.

What’s notable here is the intentionality of Jesus’ gift. He knew we would feel anxious and afraid, and He doesn’t want that for us! Remember, too, that the world’s idea of peace is a cessation of hostilities, really the negative of fighting or war. Shalom (Hebrew for “peace”), on the other hand, is a sense of safety or well-being, a confidence in God’s sovereignty, and a contentment with our circumstances. So when you pray this over your children, you’re not simply asking God to help them quit fighting or that He’ll calm their anxiety; You’re asking that they will be content and confident in life. (This verse is so rich with meaning! Check out The Power of Peace.)

Read Psalm 4:6-8 (or the whole Psalm), then pray verse 8.

In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Heavenly Father, help my child to lie down and sleep now in your peace. You are the One Who keeps us safe, and we have confidence in you.

As king, David had a lot of responsibility on his shoulders, not to mention enemies everywhere he turned. Through these next two months, there’s sure to be a lot on your mind and the minds of your children. With David’s words, we turn our focus from our concerns to God’s control, which leads to a better night’s sleep for everyone!

Read and then pray Romans 15:13.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I ask you, God, to fill my child with joy and peace as he increasingly learns to trust You. May the power of the Holy Spirit cause hope to overflow in him.

Look at the progression here. God fills us with joy and peace (two of the most common words of the Christmas season). The Holy Spirit then combines these two, resulting in hope. How’s that work? I don’t know, but isn’t it great?!? We can safely say, however, that there’s no real hope—no active, confidence-building hope—without joy and peace, which come from God.

This verse is also a great one to pray if you’re watching for your children’s readiness to accept Jesus as Savior and “boss of their lives” (a phrase we used instead of “Lord” when ours were little). Thanksgiving and Christmas create a spiritual openness in almost everyone. As your children hear about Jesus’ arrival on earth, be sure to emphasize the purpose of His coming. Talk about His love and faithfulness, leaving space for them to take steps of faith on their own. Pray for the Holy Spirit to work in their heart so they accept God’s calling to follow Him.

In the next two months, many things will arise to distract us from the “peace on Earth” that Jesus brought. I hope you can use these simple verses to amplify peace in your children and within your home.

Now, on to the holiday list-making!

4 verses to pray, promoting peace in our children through the holidays. (click to tweet)

Are you like me and you find it difficult to maintain low stress levels during the holidays? What verses help you regain your peace or promote it in your family? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

Seashell Assumptions

broken-shell
sea shell skeleton (c) Carole Sparks

We wandered down the beach in the early light, the first to imprint the sand with our feet that morning. We stopped with almost every step, scanning the sand for seashells. The sand was much further away for me than for my four-year-old. I was selective, only making the effort to bend over if I saw exceptional colors on perfectly formed shells. She wasn’t so selective. “Look at this one, Mama!” she said for the forty-seventh time in ten minutes. More often than not, “this one” was dirt brown and broken, well on its way to becoming sand.

“Oh, throw that one back. It’s not beautiful,” I told her more than once. “Look at this one, how perfect it is, how nice the colors are.”

“But I like it.” She looked a little sad. “It’s interesting. Look how you can see the inside—all the spaces. I think this is beautiful, too.”

An objection formed on my month but didn’t escape my lips. What was I teaching my child by insisting that “beautiful” and “perfect” or “whole” were the same thing? What did that assumption imply about people? Surely, I didn’t think the only beautiful people were those considered whole, attractive, and pristine in the world’s eyes!

I didn’t mean to teach my child that, but I was.

She saw the woman in the wheelchair at the grocery store. She saw the burned man at the next table in the restaurant. She saw the homeless man wandering down the street, talking to himself as I drove past him. I valued such people—ones the world might consider broken—and knew they were loved. I tried to show respect when I could. But such people weren’t part of our everyday experience any more than walks on the beach, so we hadn’t really talked about it. By rejecting the broken shells, I implied that some things (maybe even people) were more valuable than others because of their appearance. I knew I needed to correct myself before my daughter subconsciously acquired my tainted values.

I squatted down beside her and held out my hand to receive the broken shell. She ran down to wash it off in the water before placing it carefully in my palm. It was beautiful: intricate structure and shades of color that revealed a Creator much more clearly than the smooth outer surface of my “perfect” shells ever could, but it also, through its brokenness, told a story, and even though I didn’t know the story, I knew it was a beautiful story.

The Scriptures say we are each woven together in our mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139), that He has plans for each of our lives (Jeremiah 29:11), and that he values us above everything else He created (Matthew 6:25-34). We easily apply these Truths to ourselves but find it more difficult to apply the same standards to others. If I want to live out the Word of God in my own life and as a parent, I must believe these verses are true for every person, regardless of their outward appearance, not just for me as the reader. Then I must intentionally lead my children to believe the same thing.

All of us have prejudices (or at least assumptions). They are part of our sin-tainted worldviews, sometimes buried so deep we don’t even realize they are there. The challenge comes in discovering them because they are so deeply ingrained. With intentional parenting, God calls us to lay bare those assumptions and purge them from our lives and our words before we unwittingly implant them in our children’s minds.

Throw back the broken ones? No, they’re beautiful too, just like people. (click to tweet)

What have you taught your kids without realizing it? What assumptions have colored your conversations so that you had to correct them later? I know I’m not alone in this. Please share!

 

 

 

Respect is a Two-Way Street

We all want—no, expect—our children to respect us. It’s Biblical, right? Both the Old and New Testaments say, “Honor your father and mother” (e.g. Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:2). We are right to expect respect, but no matter how much we quote these verses, no matter how much we stomp our feet and vociferously demand respect, we don’t always get it.

Why not? Well, part of the reason is the sin nature with which both we and our children were born. Part of the reason is our culture and the influences of media, peers, etc. But may I submit something to you? Perhaps another part of the reason our children don’t respect us is because we don’t respect them. Respect is a two-way street.

In Intentional Parenting, we model respect for our own elders and superiors (at work, church, etc.). We also talk about respect, about how honoring others honors God and other associated Biblical concepts, such as “The Golden Rule.” Sometimes, however, we forget to apply those same Biblical concepts within our families as well.

Need some solutions? Here are a few age-appropriate ways to demonstrate respect toward your children. You can expect that respect to be reciprocated.

At Any Age

Follow through on your promises and commitments. If you said you’ll read a book before bed, then read a book. No excuses. If you said, “One more time and you lose [a certain privilege],” then after one more time, they lose that privilege.

This kind of integrity demonstrates that your words to the child actually mean something. When you begin to do what you say you will do, they will start listening.

Young Children

From the first visit to a playground or first playdate, institute a two-minute warning. Two minutes before you need to leave, tell the child he/she has two minutes remaining to play. (We usually tried to give a five-minute warning as well.) This simple warning has helped us avoid so many tantrums! I know because the times we didn’t give a warning were so much more difficult.

When you, as an adult, are busy on a project or in a conversation, you don’t like to be interrupted. Even worse, you don’t want to be forced to stop without warning. I don’t either. Why do we think it’s any easier for our children?

Early Elementary

Allow your children to make as many decisions as possible. Before you correct (or laugh—even worse!), ask yourself if it really matters. Toy storage locations, everyday clothes worn, books to read, interests to pursue…all these are decisions a six-year-old can make. Maybe you prefer the Legos in the bin on the left and the doll clothes in the bin on the right; maybe there are even good reasons for your preference, but as long as there’s no danger, allow your child the choice. That “ownership” in the location of the toys may even help at clean-up time.

Children at this age long for independence, but they have so little. By allowing their decisions to stand, we demonstrate the validity of their choices and affirm the children as independent thinkers. Besides functioning as a confidence builder and sign of respect, this approach will help your children know that when you do object, there’s an important reason.

Middle-Grade Children

Elementary and middle-grade children have so many stories to tell. Let’s be honest, though. Some of them are boring. Long and boring. As parents, we may be tempted to interrupt with something unrelated or jump in and quickly finish the story ourselves. Don’t interrupt. Allow them to finish the stories. (At our house, we have a sign for “make this shorter” when the story gets too long. It helps.) If it’s necessary to interrupt, say “Excuse me,” just like you would if interrupting an adult.

From the time they could speak, we’ve taught our children not to interrupt us. Allowing them the same honor says their experiences are valuable and their family participation is important.

Tweens and Teens

If your child asks you not to show affection in a certain way or say a certain thing in front of his/her friends, don’t do it. Respect their public image. Public displays of affection, pet names, even cheering too loudly may infantilize our teenagers (at least in their own eyes), and it may be fodder for teasing or bullying among their peers. Our teenagers don’t deserve that. Don’t worry, they’ll still enjoy the hugs, pats, and verbal affection in private. Also, refrain from telling embarrassing stories or showing naked baby pictures no matter how cute they are.

Let’s face it; we will embarrass our teenagers. It’s inevitable. But our efforts to minimize the embarrassment demonstrate our respect for their increased maturity. That respect will surely be reciprocated.

Reciprocate Respect

The world says respect is earned, not given. Contrary to the world, however, the Bible says every person—regardless of position or power—is a unique creation of God Most High (Psalm 139, for example). We begin there: every person deserves respect. This is not a burden to lay on our children (that they should respect us) but a principle to lay under our interactions with our children (that they are worthy of respect). At the same time, however, we parents should live lives worthy of our children’s respect. That’s just a given. We clear the way for respectful responses when we demonstrate respect in our interactions with them. Respect is a two-way street.

Respect your children at every age and you can expect respect from them-5 ideas. (click to tweet)

I thought about sharing stories of parents carrying their children from the playground in the middle of a temper tantrum, but let’s not do that. Instead, use the comments below to share some positive stories of reciprocated respect. Let us hear from you!

respect-2-way-street
Rainy road (c) Carole Sparks

Raising Whole Kids in a Broken World (guest post)

I recently read a post by fellow Bible study author, Leigh Powers, in which she described the scene below. It led me to think (again) about how we help our children deal with the almost-daily crises of our world. So I asked Leigh to share that story and how she helps her children walk through world events. You can read more about Leigh at the end of the post.

As we entered the museum lobby, my mind was on getting tickets and getting through the crowd. I didn’t pay much attention to the two metal beams until one of my children asked me about them.

“Mom, what are those for?”

I thought the twisted metal was a sculpture and said so as I walked over to read the plaque. But it was two support beams from the World Trade Center. I wanted to go see dinosaur bones and play with light, not explain how evil the world can be to my children who have never known a time before the towers fell. But honest questions deserve honest answers, and so I told my son that fifteen years ago some men had flown planes into a tall building in New York. The building fell down and a lot of people died, so the beams are there to help us remember.

It was enough of an answer for the moment, but it came back up at lunch. “But why would people fly planes into buildings?”

I gave the only answer I could. “Because some bad men wanted to hurt people and to make us afraid.”

He accepted it and we went on. But it wasn’t the only conversation we’d have that week. The day after our museum visit, a sniper fired on officers in Dallas, killing five. And as the news came on the radio, he asked again. “Why, Mom? Why would someone do that?”

And what else can you say? “Because a bad man wanted to hurt people and make them afraid.”

I wish sometimes I didn’t have to explain the evil of this world to my children. I’d like to wrap them up in warm blankets and shelter them away from everything that might make them worried or afraid—and there are times when that’s appropriate. But I also recognize part of parenting is equipping them to face the world as it is, not as I wish it would be. Our world is broken, but I want my kids to live whole. Part of that training is helping them to think theologically: recognizing that there is evil, but God’s sovereignty means we don’t have to be afraid. As we have these conversations about current events and the problems of the world, here are some truths I want them to know.

  • This world is broken. Living in this world means confronting the reality of sin and evil. Bad things happen. People do horrible things to one another. Sometimes our own sinful actions hurt others. In this life we will have hardships and pain, trouble and sorrow. Though God did not create the world this way, we have inherited a world broken and warped by sin. As they grow into maturity, I want my children to recognize that though we live in a broken world, Christ makes us whole.
  • God is sovereign. Our world is broken, but God is still in control. Even when bad things happen, we can trust in God’s unfailing presence and power. Knowing that God is real, that he is good, and that he is ultimately in control can give us peace. When it feels like the world is falling apart, I want my children to be able to trust in God’s sure and certain reign.
  • There is a day of redemption. This world will not be broken forever. Though God now is patient, allowing time for people to repent and turn to him, there will come a day when God says enough. We have seen the end of the story. God has a glorious future for his people where there is no more sin, no more sadness, no more death. Sin and death and evil will all be destroyed and we will enjoy God’s goodness and mercy forever. I want my children to hope in the glorious future that awaits the people of God.
  • We don’t have to be afraid. The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). We don’t have to let fear determine our decision making because the power of the Spirit gives us courage. I recognize that my children will inherit a world where faith and conviction carry a higher price than I have known. But I also believe God will supply what they need when they need it so they can stand unashamed. I want to model the courage of conviction for them and encourage them to do what is right even when it is hard.

I don’t know what tragedies the future holds, but I know there will be more conversations with my children about things that are hard—things that reveal the brokenness and twistedness of this world. But I am confident we can live whole in our broken world because of what Christ has done for us. And by his grace, this world won’t be broken forever.

Remind your kids: We can live whole in this broken world because of what Christ has done for us! (click to tweet)

Carole here. As a parent, how have you integrated these four truths into conversations and experiences? Leigh and I would love to hear your stories. Please share in the comments!

Related: Talking about Tragic Events with Kids

Leigh Powers headshotLeigh Powers is a pastor’s wife, Bible study and devotional author, freelance editor, and mother of three from small-town West Texas. She is passionate about helping women find hope and healing by connecting with God through his word. She blogs at My Life. His Story (www.leighpowers.com). You can also connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

New School Year, New Parenting Practices

4 Habits to Draw Your Family Closer to Christ

It’s that time of year! No, not Christmas (although we’ll see it in the stores any time now). In the USA, it’s the beginning of a new school year. Many of the school systems around us begin classes this week or next, and every homeschooling mom I meet has an imminent date in her mind as well.

As a parent, mid-August feels more like a new beginning to me than early January. With the establishment of new school schedules, after-school activities, etc., this is a fantastic time to implement or refresh some Christ-centered practices in your family life as well. Consider any or all of these four ways to ‘up’ your Intentional Parenting game.

  1. Establish Family Devotions

I will just confess right here that we don’t do this. In fact, my impetus for writing this post is my desire to finally start a weekly study time with my family!

Rather than depending on a pre-written devotional (sorry, writer friends!), try reading through a gospel such as Mark. Do one chapter or one story  each week. Be creative; act it out if your children like that kind of thing or play charades or draw pictures or just take turns reading aloud. Leave time to talk and to pray for God to help you respond to what you’ve received. For older children, you might study a paragraph per week from an epistle such as Philippians.

If the thought of discipling your children like this leaves you weak in the knees, come back next week. I’ll post How to Study the Bible with Your Grade School Children in 500 words or less.

Intentional Parenting perk: When we prioritize Bible study…when we model digging into the Word, obeying what we find, and living according to God’s guidance, our children naturally learn to do the same.

If you just don’t know how to fit this intentional time into your family calendar, look at #4. We’re making it a priority this fall—finally—and I’m praying you see the value in it, too!

  1. Implement Drive-to-School prayer time

We started this last year, and it was such a blessing. If you deliver your child(ren) to school, turn off the radio on the way. Ask what he/she anticipates in the day to come:

  • Academically: tests, homework, projects, presentations, PE expectations
  • Socially: friends, lunch conversation, locker break
  • Emotionally: disappointing grades, difficult teacher

Repeat the names of classmates and friends to help you remember. Ask for clarification if necessary. Show that you are really listening.

After listening, pray aloud as you drive. (Don’t close your eyes, obviously.) If you feel led, offer a very little bit of counsel…maybe a Bible verses that applies. This isn’t the time to advise; it’s the time to support. Let him/her know you’ll be praying through the day.

Intentional Parenting perk: This habit says, “I love you and I care about you, my child.” It also demonstrates that God is interested and active in our day-to-day lives. Just watch after God works in something about which you’ve prayed!

Give God a chance to prove Himself faithful in your child’s life through voiced prayer. (click to tweet)

  1. Create After-School Conversation Time

My introvert just isn’t up to processing her day the moment she gets in the car after school. She needs some quiet. My extrovert wants to talk right away, and he always has multiple stories (some of which don’t make any sense to me, but that’s okay). The when isn’t important. It might be immediately after school, over dinner, or just before lights-out. The point is to spend some time processing with your child, holding him accountable, and helping her see how God did answer those morning prayers.

Avoid yes/no questions, and make sure you ask about whatever they mentioned in the morning. Beyond that, we’ve used these two questions since our first one started Kindergarten. They know to expect the questions, so they look for answers as they go through the day.

  • What was your best thing from today?
  • What was your worst thing from today?

You may have different questions or more questions. Don’t get too complicated or long, though, especially for younger kids.

Intentional Parenting perk: The purpose of this habit is to communicate your enduring investment in your child’s life and to coach them through their days away from you.

  1. Set a Family Schedule

It’s super-easy to over-commit at the beginning of the school year. Everything seems like a good idea: PTA council, STEM scouts, sports teams, after-school clubs, service clubs, tutoring sessions, music lessons, Bible studies. Before you know it, you’re wearing out your mini-van tires on the road to school, church, the field/court and back!

With planning, you can create blocks of open space for family, so don’t say ‘yes’ yet! (click to tweet)

Before school starts, sit down together and, keeping your family mission statement in mind, decide how many activities each child will participate in or how many evenings/week you are willing to be out of the house. Decide this before the offers and ideas start rolling in.

After school starts, wait until everything is ‘on the table,’ include AWANA or whatever evening programs your church offers. (I realize some parents may be shocked by this, but sometimes the best choice for your family will be to skip Wednesday night church programs for this year.) Talk through which parent will drive where, how long the commute takes, what it means for family dinners, finances, homework plans for those days, longevity (such as continuing piano lessons), etc. Some options will automatically be disregarded. For the rest, make decisions as a family. Even the youngest ones can participate. This is hard. Believe me, I know. We have said “no” to so many good-but-not-best things, but our family is stronger and closer to Jesus because of those tough decisions.

Intentional Parenting perk: As your children watch you model responsible, Christ-centered time management, they see what’s important to you and to your family and they learn to make intentional decisions for themselves.

Small changes in your family routine will go a long way toward peace and understanding in your home. Or, to make a bread-baking analogy…

Knead some small changes into your new school routine and watch your family rise into richer Christ-centeredness. (click to tweet)

What about you? What small changes do you hope to implement at the turn of the school year?

Want more? Check out any of these posts:

How to Make Room for the Important by Kelly Smith at The Glorious Table. Kelly has guest posted on Intentional Parenting before, so you know I like her. This post is for the moms and dads who fell led to adjust their own schedules—especially applicable at this corner-turning time of year.

4 Tips to Start Off the School Year by Sarah Anderson at Parent Cue. Sarah has very young kids, so her tips are different from mine, but I found the post insightful.

Also, my Wait, Wait, Don’t TELL Me* post may be helpful if your children are in middle or high school.

Scary Social Situation? Be BRAVE.

It’s one thing to say, “Be brave,” but quite another to equip our children for social situations that require courage. Here’s a great acrostic (using the letters in brave) to help you coach your children through those scary social situations that come up during summer camps and events. But first, some background…

Music camp: My so-tall-for-her-age, introverted daughter squared her shoulders, threw her very-unique violin case over her shoulder and said, “Bye, Mom” as she turned toward the auditorium doors. She knew not even one of the over two hundred students inside. I had to hold my other child’s hand just to stop myself from walking in with her.

Sports camp: My long-haired, tall and skinny son who has never played basketball before in his life finished his registration and marched right into the university arena with other boys his age who’ve played for years. I knew I would want to pull aside one of those massive college players and explain his situation or tell him to watch out for my son. This one was so hard that I couldn’t even do it. My husband signed him in.

This is what summer is for! New experiences, stretching existing skills, growing in ways the school year doesn’t often permit. Oh, I’m not talking about the kids; I’m talking about me!

We must give our children opportunities to be brave. As they age, they need to start practicing their reactions to socially scary situations. They need to learn to interact with new people without a parent’s intervention. They can be successful…and we can help!

Take these five prompts and adjust them for the age and personality of your child, then square your own shoulders and smile as he or she walks into that room full of strangers! Not that he’ll look back. The smile is so the other parents don’t know how apprehensive you are.

Brainstorm a few conversation starters.

This one’s mostly for introverts. At school, it’s easy to strike up a conversation because the environment is familiar. You talk about the teacher or the classroom or the other students. But in a brand new place, she may “draw a blank” when she sits down beside someone. The day before, brainstorm with her and let her practice a couple of not-over-the-top ways to say hi. Encourage her to find someone else who looks like she’s alone and try out one of her lines there.

Remind him to be kind or generous.

In an uncertain situation, it’s natural to start reacting defensively. But selfish people don’t make friends. Present a couple of relevant case studies (you don’t have to call them that) in which he can make a decision beforehand about how he will act. For basketball camp, we could have asked, “What will you do if you and another boy arrive at the back of the line at the same time?” The best answer would have been to let the other boy go in front of him.

Ask her about the experience afterward.

Be ready with questions when she’s ready to talk. For some, that’s as soon as they walk out, for others, there’s a need to process first. Ask about who she met, what was hardest about the day, what she enjoyed the most. Also give her some extra time to rest. Even if she’s an extrovert, she’s probably exhausted after so much newness.

Verify God’s constant presence.

Not only will you be thinking of him and praying for him the whole time he’s gone, but God Himself goes before him and beside him. His confidence comes from who he is in Christ, not from how many people laugh at his joke. I like to write Bible verses on my kids’ mirror with a dry erase marker. I would choose something like Isaiah 41:13 or Joshua 1:9. Sure, it’s not “the valley of the shadow of death,” but Psalm 23:4 would work, too.

Encourage her every day.

Remind her of a previous situation in which she showed courage, even if it seems unrelated. After the first day, tell her how brave she was for walking in alone. Tell her you’re proud of her for trying something without any of her friends around. Point out something she did well or something she learned from the experience—not just the training (i.e. violin or basketball) but socially as well. Tell her about a time when you had to “go it alone.”

With these BRAVE prompts, your children can navigate scary social situations this summer! (click to tweet) And you can relax with your favorite coping mechanism while they’re gone. Mine is coffee.

scary social situation

How do you help your children navigate new social situations? Do you use a particular verse to encourage them? Please share in the comments below!

 

4 Surprising Things That do NOT Promote Humility in Your Children (part 1)

As parents, we walk this fine line between guarding our child’s self-esteem and his/her humility. In a recent post, I described some tactics for fostering healthy self-esteem. Both self-esteem and humility are skills—perspectives, really—that must be taught. They are two sides of a Christ-centered identity cube. (Is it a cube? Hmm…We’ll have to dig into that later.)

Just to get us started on healthy humility, here are two ways NOT to praise our children. Next week, I’ll add two ways NOT to address failure. (Because this started getting long, I’ve divided it into two parts.) How we talk about success and failure go a long way toward that healthy self-esteem we seek for our children…and ourselves.

2 Ways NOT to Praise Our Children

Sometimes it’s difficult to know what to praise, when to praise, and how to praise our children productively. There’s no exhaustive list of the right and wrong times. The most important thing about praising your children (or anyone) is that it must be authentic. We all know those fake one-liners that fall flat before they even reach our ears. I call that “plastic praise.”

  1. Praise them only when they win.

Of course we want to praise our children when they succeed. We should praise them at those times. But we also need to praise them when they fail well. There’s much to be learned in failure, if we handle it properly. Praise their effort, their graciousness toward their opponent, their self-control. Even in success, focus on these things and on God’s blessings (health, strength, intelligence) that brought about their success.

In success: “Wow, Hope, you did well in karate today! I saw how you remembered so much of what you’ve been taught and put it into practice. You fought hard, and you deserved to win! I also saw how you helped your opponent get up at the end. You showed real sportsmanship there. I thank God for giving you a strong body and a kind spirit.”

In failure: “Hey, Hope. I know you’re disappointed that you didn’t win. You fought hard, though. I could tell that you’ve been paying attention in karate class; you used some pretty advanced moves out there. That was some good sportsmanship at the end, too, when you shook hands with your opponent. I’m thankful for your attitude and that you tried so hard.”

  1. Praise them for doing what they are supposed to do anyway.

This involves keeping the rules, doing chores, and other expectations. Save the big praise for improvements or changes that required effort.

There’s no harm in the occasional comment about their ability to follow rules, but a focus on rule-keeping leads to little Pharisees. It bases their value in behavior rather than character. Focus instead on the choices they make to follow the rules even when it’s difficult. Look for demonstrations of strong character and for times when it was difficult to obey but they chose that more difficult route.

There’s also nothing wrong with mentioning their completed chores or other tasks, but emphasize consistency or exceptional attention to the work. Use comments like, “I’ve noticed that you made up your bed every day this week without being reminded.” or “Your bed-making skills have really improved over the last few months.” This type of praise emphasizes improvement and character rather than reducing the praise to a checklist.

In our home, I have to remind the kids to practice their instruments every day, so I don’t praise them for doing it. I will praise one when I tell him to go practice and he does it immediately. I will praise another for improvements in skill level. I’m looking forward to the day when they practice without prompting!

Obedience must be the expectation not the exception.

Let me repeat the exception to this praise policy: When the child has struggled to keep a certain rule or meet a certain expectation or when he/she is learning a new task. In those cases, be quick to praise and recognize even the smallest success!

A person is praised according to their prudence… -Proverbs 12:8a

2 Ways to use praise for maximum impact in #IntentionalParenting. (click to share on twitter)

Come back next week for some thoughts on talking with our kids about their failures. In the mean time, how have you used praise effectively in parenting?

Update 5.11.16: I just read this great, science-backed article on how we phrase praise! Perfect timing.

Update 7.20.16: This discussion/excerpt of The Examined Life by  Stephen Grosz contributes a wealth of observation to our discussion. Think I’m going to read the whole book…