What’s Your Superpower? (guest post)

Sometimes you meet a person, and you think, “This person is fun. I want to hang out with them.” That’s what I thought when I met Beckie Lindsey at a writer’s conference last year. I quickly discovered that she laughs easily and loves quickly. But don’t let that fun persona lead you to think she’s a lightweight. Beckie can pack a theological punch, as you’ll discover in this super-special guest post!

Come on, admit it. There are superpowers you’d like to have. Maybe when you were a kid, you ran around the house wearing a makeshift cape. No worries. There is no judgment from me. I used to tell my brother and best friend that I was half-cat. It’s fun to envision what life would be like if we developed superpowers of our own. Would you have superhuman strength? Fly? How about reading minds?

Comic books, movies, and cartoons have depicted our fascination with superheroes and their superpowers. As parents, we’d love to have superpowers—or at least we’d like our kids to think we do. Continue reading “What’s Your Superpower? (guest post)”

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Emotion Management 101

The Scriptures tell us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27). The heart, in Hebrew as well as English, refers to the “seat” of our emotions; that is, the part of ourselves from which our emotions spring. So how do we love God with all our emotions? And how do we teach our children to do the same?

  1. The three-year-old boy can’t operate his bubble gun. After about twenty seconds of trying, he throws it onto the ground in frustration.
  2. The four-year-old girl doesn’t want to lie down for rest time. She screams and kicks, refusing to comply.
  3. The six-year-old boy wants the brown crayon while another child has it. He breaks four other crayons because he can’t get it.

These are sinful actions, no doubt about it. But let’s be careful to distinguish the actions from the emotions. Depending on the age of the child and other factors, discipline may be appropriate for actions springing from certain emotions, but let’s never discipline our kids for feeling angry, frustrated, or other so-called “bad” emotions.

Consider:

  • God is emotional. He loves; He is pleased by things; He gets frustrated (e.g. the Hebrew people in the wilderness, Exodus 32:7-10).
  • Jesus experienced everything involved in being human—including emotions: He loved, He wept, He got angry—and even acted on that anger (Mark 11:15-17)! Yet He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15).
  • We humans, created in the image of God and patterning our lives on the example of Jesus, are emotional beings.
  • The Bible never says, “Don’t get angry.” Rather, it says, “In your anger do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26).

Clearly, the experience of strong emotions is not automatically sinful. The sin associated with emotion comes from one of two issues. Either sin causes the emotion (e.g. selfishness leads to impatience), or we respond to the emotion in a sinful way (e.g. hitting someone in anger). For our concrete-thinking children, let’s focus on the second, more tangible issue: responding to emotions.

Responding to Our Emotions

When we experience a negative emotion, we have three response options. (I’m not a psychologist. These are just my observations.)

  1. We can act out. The child in example 3 above broke crayons because he didn’t know how to practice patience.
  2. We can stuff the emotion back down inside ourselves. This often happens if we shame our children for feeling a certain way. Eventually, all those swallowed emotions will probably cause the child to explode. I’ve seen this happen with my own kids.
  3. We can handle the emotion responsibly. People (children and adults) can’t do this without training.

Handling emotions is a learned skill, not something we’re born with. How can we teach our kids to manage their emotions well?

Build Vocabulary

First, we must build emotional vocabulary through observation and experience. For our younger children, we name it: “Noah, you’re feeling angry.” Or “Sarah, you’re feeling sad.” Or “Mommy is feeling frustrated.” Say it out loud. Ask your child to say it out loud.

We follow the feelings statement with why. “You’re feeling angry because the bubble gun isn’t working for you.” “…because your friend can’t come play with you today.” “…because I’ve told you all to pick up your toys five times already and you haven’t done it.” (Maybe that last one is just me.) If we model this verbal acknowledgement, our children will learn to do the same.

Offer Action Steps

Next, we must offer concrete action steps for managing various emotions, e.g. “When I am angry, I can do ten jumping jacks to calm down or I can take a deep breath and back away.” The actions you offer will depend on the child. I suggest you give two acceptable options. Choosing will help your child feel in control of the situation. Offer action steps for the positive emotions, too. “When I am happy, I can sing a song or I can skip across the yard.” Keep the options consistent if possible. If little Noah always has the same two options for managing his anger, he’ll soon learn to choose even before you offer the options.

Lots and lots of praise would be appropriate when she successfully manages a difficult emotion on her own!

Play a Game

To introduce this new way of managing emotions, play charades with your child/children. First, the parent models the emotion and the child guesses. Once the child has named the emotion, give a reason one might feel that way. Say for example, “I am sad because my friend forgot my birthday.” Next, model various positive and negative ways to manage that emotion. (Use options your kids might use.) Ask your children to decide if each way is acceptable. When you’ve settled on at least two healthy ways to deal with the emotion, ask each child which one he/she would choose for that emotion.

After your children understand the game, let them model various emotions and responses. Make sure to discuss each response.

How do we love God with all our emotions, not just the positive ones? We handle them in a way that brings Him glory. We take them under control and learn to manage them–and teach our kids to do the same–so it’s clear to everyone that we love Him.

#Emotions themselves aren’t sinful. It’s how we handle them that counts. Let’s teach our children some emotional management skills. #IntentionalParenting via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

What practical ways have you found to help your children deal with their emotions in a way that honors God? We would all love to hear some “best practices!”

Want more? Check out this post from Desiring God for more on handling emotions as a Christ-following adult.

 

The Method Drowned the Message

It feels like yesterday when my firstborn would climb onto my lap to read a book. Well, I read. She turned pages–sometimes too quickly. One day, she brought me this book about a sad sheep. (I can’t remember why the sheep was sad.) I liked to do voices when I read (still do!), and I voiced the sheep as if he was horribly upset. After about three words, she turned around with a look of horror on her face and tears in her eyes. Before I could react, she burst into tears and pushed the book away. I’m not sure we ever read that book again.

The method of my delivery drowned out the message of the story.

Twelve years later… Continue reading “The Method Drowned the Message”

A Hero for Everyday Evil

From early on, our kids dress up as heroes and champions. Then at some point, they grow out of all their costumes–both literally and figuratively–as their thinking shifts from pretending to real longing. They want to be someone heroic, important, or noble.

Check out this conversation I had last year with our son, who was eleven at the time. The Holy Spirit helped me say what he needed to hear, and it was so precious to me that I wrote it down the next day.

It starts like this…

“I wish there was a war, so I could do something big—like Anne Frank or Alexander Hamilton.” My eleven-year-old paused from his self-imposed evening journaling. “That’s why I’m writing this. One day, when I’m important, people will know about my childhood.” He had that childish look in his eyes—that look of potential, when anything imagined really is possible.

I sent up a silent, millisecond prayer. How could I bring him into reality and encourage him at the same time?

You can read the rest of our conversation over at Just18Summers. Then leave me a note there or come back here to comment. I’d love to hear how you encourage the little heroes in your home!

Our kids may never be famous heroes but they battle evil every day. Let’s encourage them to face it with confidence! #IntentionalParenting via @Carole_Sparks and #Just18Summers, @michelleinspire. (click to tweet)

FOMO for Minister’s Kids

This month on PastorsWives.com, I share about those years when we lived where there was no church, about how I worried that my kids wouldn’t spiritually mature without the programs so familiar to most of us, about how God met their needs in unique, over-the-top ways. Looking back, I’m actually glad they didn’t have all the advantages of a large church.

It starts like this…

I want the best for my kids. We all do. It’s part of being a mother.

When God called us overseas, we had to forsake a loving nursery where every worker had a background check, followed by a well-structured, modern children’s program, and culminating in a large, energetic youth group. Without these, I was anxious about the spiritual education of my children. 

  • Who would teach them the Bible stories?
  • Would they be “normal kids” without pizza parties and emphasis weekends?
  • How would they learn how to battle PEER PRESSURE?!
  • WHAT IF THEY NEVER LEARNED “JESUS LOVES ME”?!?!? (I was happy to avoid “Father Abraham,” because that song just drives me crazy.)

Click on over to read the rest. I’d appreciate it if you leave a comment there or pop back over here and let me know what you think.

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!

**A shorter version of this story appeared on Just18Summers in March 2018.**