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)

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 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!

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.

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!


9 Good Things My Kids Learn in Public School

Decisions about a child’s education loom large in the mind of every thinking (a.k.a. intentional) parent. I’ve known many parents who lost sleep, wept tears, and passionately prayed about where and/or how to educate their children. While a child’s education path is a big decision, it’s not like you’re giving your child a tattoo. You can change educational formats whenever you need to.

In eight years of formally educating my children, we have experienced every format available except for boarding school: private school, Christian school, homeschool, and public school.  Sometimes the change was the result of a move or shift in circumstances, sometimes it was simply God-directed. Through these many experiences, God has taught me to release the idol of education and place it among my parenting goals, not at the top of my family’s priorities. If my child doesn’t learn to read this year, he will learn next year, and that’s okay. By the time he gets to middle school, it won’t matter. And I’ve never heard anyone say, “If only I had gotten into AP Calculus in high school, my whole life would have turned out differently!” Let’s face it:

  • There is no One Best Way to educate children.
  • That a child learns is far more important than when she learns.
  • Every school environment teaches more than what is gleaned from books.
  • Aside from the fundamentals (reading, writing, basic math), learning how to learn is often more important than what one learns.

In 2014, God very clearly and specifically led us to place our children in public school—one in middle school and one in elementary. Sure, some days are more difficult than they would be if we homeschooled or if they were surrounded by children who shared their Christian worldview. The benefits, however, have been exceptional. While we might see some portion of these benefits in other educational contexts, public school has provided them all…with little added effort on my part. Consider these nine things my kids are learning in public school.

  1. How to interact with different social, economic, ethnic, and religious groups. They constantly rub shoulders with poverty and wealth, agnostics and fundamentalists, recent immigrants and DAR descendants. They are learning to live harmoniously in our multi-ethnic American culture.
  2. How to wait. When they finish their work before others, they must wait quietly. Patience: what a real-life skill to have under their belts!
  3. How to help others through explanation. When they understand something, the teacher will occasionally ask them to help a student who is struggling. This exercises patience, compassion and generosity…not to mention verbal skills in re-explaining.
  4. How to speak up for themselves. In the classroom setting they learn to answer questions with confidence. They learn to express their needs (younger years) and their opinions (older years). Sometimes those opinions don’t correlate with others in the class, so they learn how to defend their position with poise and respect.
  5. How to win and lose graciously. Sometimes their team wins, sometimes it loses. They must “be okay” with either. Sometimes they answer an oral question incorrectly, and they learn to manage the embarrassment. Sometimes they score 100% on every spelling test, and they learn to manage that success without hurting their friends’ feelings.
  6. How to apply Biblical wisdom without adult guidance. In social situations at school, their obedience and faith are tested. The school context provides a safe environment where they can fail without huge consequences—great practice for college and adult life.
  7. How to speak respectfully about their faith. Again, they can succeed and fail in small steps so they gradually learn what Peter meant in 1 Peter 3:15b-16a, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.
  8. How to learn things they don’t really want to learn in ways that aren’t their preferred learning style. Not everything in school is interesting. Not every activity fits my child’s best learning style. He has to learn it anyway, so he learns how to learn even when he isn’t motivated. This is an essential life skill.
  9. How to summarize their experiences and reflect on their days. When the children come home from school, we talk about the good and bad things that happened that day. I don’t need a moment-by-moment account. I need a summary that includes highlights, emotions, and an evaluation of experiences. They are learning to glean wisdom from their own lives.

Every child is unique and every family is different. In the spring, we begin to pray about where/how to educate our children in the next school year. As you pray and plan for the coming year (It’s not too early!), don’t ignore the public school option. It might just be God’s will for your child and family. Then, whatever method of education to which God calls you, embrace it! I support you.

9 Good Things My Kids Learn in Public School: an #IntentionalParenting reflection on God’s intentions for my kids via @Carole_Sparks. #education (click to tweet)

How do/did you make education decision for your child/children? Every family is different–and every child within that family. Let us know in the comments below.


Five Reasons We Don’t ‘Do’ Santa

I thought we were past this. With both kids in double-digits now, I didn’t expect to be offering explanations about our stance on Santa Claus again. But the issue has already arisen this Christmas season.


Intentional parenting means that we, as parents, recognize when we’re making decisions and consider the long-term repercussions of those decisions. We don’t just ‘go with the flow’ of our culture, and we don’t parent for personal convenience or for appearances. In our case, that meant choosing not to lead our children to believe in Santa Claus. Before you label us as Mr. & Mrs. Grinch, consider these five reasons we don’t ‘do’ Santa at our house.

1. We refuse to lie to our children about anything.

12-07 St Nicholas morning 15
(c) Carole Sparks

In our present-day culture, truth is what you want it to be. People even say that something can be true for you and not true for me. As Christ-followers, however, we know there is Absolute Truth, and as parents, it’s our job to set the standard of truth in our homes. When our children reach the age of understanding and discover that we’ve been deceiving them about Santa for their entire lives, our admonition not to lie is rendered moot. At that same age, they begin to question our belief system. If we lied about Santa, maybe we’re lying about God, too (more on this below).


As all of us know when it comes to deception, it’s never one simple lie.  The existence of Santa leads to chimneys (or the absence thereof), and who ate the cookies, and multiple Santas in various locations, and why Santa didn’t bring the much-anticipated pony. Telling the truth is simple and easy to remember.


Then there’s the fact that, at some point, you do have to tell them the awkward truth. I’ve written before about those difficult conversations (sex, drug use, etc.). By removing Santa, we eliminated at least one of those ‘talks.’ Whew.

2. We don’t want our children to lie to us.

This goes back to that age of understanding. You and I both remember that year (or years) when we knew Santa wasn’t real but we still wanted all the gifts, so we pretended to believe. That’s deception. If it’s not okay in everyday life, it’s not okay for Christmas.

3. We refuse to bribe our children for good behavior.

12-07 St Nicholas morning 07
(c) Carole Sparks

A child’s behavior reveals the condition of his or her heart. (See Shepherding A Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp for more on this.) By rewarding a child for good behavior, we feed the inborn selfishness of that child’s heart. We don’t want our children to be good because they will get something; we want them to act honorably because their hearts are pure, desiring to bless God and those around them. We set the expectations for year-round behavior, and that doesn’t change because it’s the holidays.


Furthermore, no one actually follows through on the naughty/nice list. Even if a child is terribly behaved leading up to Christmas, she will still find a stocking (or more) full of new toys on Christmas morning. By not carrying out the discipline, the parent models to the child that her behavior doesn’t matter and that Mom or Dad’s commands can be ignored.

And finally, on the naughty/nice thing…what about the impoverished child? Santa Claus brings gifts to “all the good boys and girls” so he tried really hard to be good for a whole month. Yet on Christmas morning, he gets nothing because his parents can’t even put food on the table. What undeserved disappointment!

4. It’s too easy to misplace the meaning of Christmas.

I have a hard time keeping my focus on Jesus during the holiday season, and I know most of you do too. Think how much more difficult it must be for our children, who don’t have years of experience and a history of God’s faithfulness on which to fall back! Between the songs about Santa and the Christmas-morning pile of gifts to anticipate, our children’s thoughts will—understandably—be consumed by the clutter of consumerism. (Oohh-nice alliteration! I’ll have to use that again.)

5. God is God and Santa is not.

I don’t buy into all that ‘Santa is misspelled Satan’ junk, but undoubtedly, we need to be careful here. Just think about it; both God and Santa:

  • Are unseen
  • See everything
  • Give good gifts
  • Typically have white beards
  • Have mythical powers
  • Come at Christmas (via Jesus)
  • Influence behavior
  • Have naughty/nice lists (Lambs Book of Life, separating sheep and goats)

It’s enough to confuse a little kid! That child may then start to think God also rewards obedience, but we know it’s not the good kids who go to heaven. It’s the saved kids…and adults. What is more, when the child discovers that Santa isn’t real, he may unconsciously put God in the same category.


So What Do We Do Instead?

When changing one’s lifestyle or habits, we all know it doesn’t work just

Saint Nicholas: The Real Story… by Julie Stiegemeyer

to remove. You have to replace. We replaced the whole Santa Claus thing with a celebration of Saint Nicholas’ Day. When the children awake on December 6th, they find a small stocking of gifts—a reminder of Nicholas’ generosity, which is why we also do something charitable on/around that day. We read a book we have about St. Nicholas, and we have a nice dinner together. So they do still get gifts, and because they come in a stocking, they have an answer for all those well-meaning adults who later ask, “Was Santa good to you this year?” The gifts are small, but I try to make them special. The focus, however, is on giving/helping others.



Logistically, this works great for us.

  • It gives the children a chance to enjoy their gifts without the stress of rushing off to this or that relative’s house. In the past few years, we’ve given only St. Nicholas’ Day gifts because we travel later in the month.
  • Because we travel, St. Nicholas’ Day is our family’s private observance of Christmas—something I treasure.
  • It marks the beginning of the Christmas season for us. Although this year we’re observing Advent (an effort to keep our focus centered, as I wrote above), there’s still something about the stockings and the story that say “Christmas is here!”
  • It’s easy to find a charity to help. In the past, we’ve donated money, but now I’m trying to make the giving more of a hands-on experience.


People argue that, without Santa, children miss out on the magic of Christmas. The “magic,” if you want to call it that…the astonishing thing…is that God voluntarily became a human being—a baby!—and came to live with people on earth.


The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  –John 1:14


By removing the distraction of Santa Claus, my children have a better chance of catching the real “magic.”



further reading:

From 2013, John Piper says “no way” to Santa in a Christian family’s home on Desiring God.

By Elizabeth Maddrey, one family’s story of keeping Santa in the “make-believe” category, posted at The Glorious Table.


Talking About Tragic Events with Kids (Guest Post)

     Hardly a week goes by now that we don't hear about another school/campus shooting. My kids are concerned, sometimes even frightened, and it isn't always easy to answer their questions.
     After the Boston Marathon bombing, my friend, Chester Goad, wrote this post. The event is different and the time of year was different, but his advice readily applies. I hope it helps you walk through these events and emotions with your children. 
     Read about Chester at the end of this post.
(c) Carole Sparks
(c) Carole Sparks
A Terrible Thing Happened by Margaret M. Holmes

Today I am taking a break from dyslexia, learning differences, and disabilities to address the tragic events that occurred in Boston at one of America’s most celebrated events. While we stand united in our grief, adults and children alike are all grappling for understanding.

It is important in times like this to remember that individuals respond to grief and difficult circumstances in a variety of ways. Children often try to filter and process what they have seen and heard through questioning. Others remain silent and keep their questions to themselves until they are ready to open up. That is why dialogue is so important. In reality, most school age children will be talking about this national crisis in class tomorrow morning and many are probably already texting through their emotions with close friends. It is also common for discipline problems to rise as students act out as they process their emotions. An extra ounce of grace and understanding is always helpful.

The key to successful, meaningful discussions with children is to allow plenty of time to absorb and discuss the issues. While it is mid-April and many school systems may be reviewing for annual standardized assessments, it is probably wise to take some time away from typical review sessions and allow ample time for group discussions, free-writing activities, and guidance. Encourage students to ask questions and reassure them that their questions and concerns are valid. Of course as the adult or parent you can set any perimeters, but your students or your children need to feel secure and safe to ask whatever may be on their hearts and minds.

The best advice for working through these types of events with children is to 1) communicate, 2) don’t offer more information than is necessary, and 3) gauge your age-appropriate responses carefully. A great rule of thumb for providing an age-appropriate response is to answer each question as deliberately, thoughtfully, and concisely as possible. In other words, don’t read too much into the question. Often, the question is simply the question. If students have more questions, they will ask them. It’s not necessary, and can be counterproductive to provide complicated or emotional responses. In fact, answering questions in a dramatic or provocative way can sometimes only serve to add more fuel to the anxiety students are already feeling.

As the adult, you set the mood in your home or in your classroom. Speak calmly and share your feelings in an honest and sincere way. Students need to see your human side and your strength. They need encouragement and reassurance. Listen to your kids and they will help you guide the conversation where it needs to go. Just remember it’s best to leave it where it goes until more questions are asked. Don’t forget reading books is always therapeutic, and there are many children’s books available that touch on issues of grief and sadly also terrorism. Depending on your belief system, prayer and spiritual discussions are almost always welcome and appreciated during times of grief and trouble. Students are often seeking deeper answers to their ever-deepening questions.

Below I have provided a list of resources for talking through tragedies and difficult circumstances with students. Please join me in lifting Boston, the victims and their families, our nation, and especially our children, up in prayer.


Talking about the Boston Marathon Explosions CBS

Talking to Kids about Scary Situations MSN

Tragedy and Children NPR (based on the Newtown Shootings)

Talking Violence with Children, National Association of School Psychologists

Boston Marathon, How to Talk to Your Kids about Tragedy, She Knows

Books to Help Kids Talk about Tragedy, GalleyCat (originally compiled for Newtown, CT)

Talking to Kids about Terrorism from American Academy of Pediatrics

Teachers Guide to Grief K-5, PBS

How to Talk to Kids about Tragedy in the Media Parenting Today

Learning from the Challenges of Our Times, New Jersey Schools

When Death Impacts Your School, The Dougy Center

Grief Suggestions for Teachers and Counselors,

Benefits of Play and Age-Specific Intervention, Prepare, Respond, Recover

Tips for Students in Unsettling Times, NASPOnline

The Best Resources For Helping Students Deal With Grief

21 Ways to Comfort Those Who are Suffering, (A great spiritual piece originally written for 9/11)

Resources: Talking and Teaching About The Shooting in Newtown, Connecticut Learning Network.

Unspeakable Tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School Edutopia

Helping Children Cope with Traumatic Events Share My Lesson.

How to talk to kids about violence is by Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post.

Dr. Steven Marans: Talking to children about violence

Talk to Your Kids About the Recent Violence  ABC News.

Kids, the Media and Tragedy: 5 Lessons I Learned From Columbine

chester goad smiling wearing glassesChester Goad is founder of The Edventurist blog, an adult living with ADD, a university administrator, writer, speaker, and disability advocate, who is committed to making life better and more fun for people with attention deficit and dyslexia. He is a licensed teacher, former school principal, and former youth pastor. Connect with Chester at www.chestergoad.com.



Update 7.12.16: With even more tragic news now, ChristianParenting.org recently added How to Talk to Kids When Bad Things Happen. Check it out for age-specific advice.

Content and Context (part 6) – Minor Prophets

Our last survey for the Old Testament. These guys are fascinating, and so much of what they said reverberates into our century. If it’s been awhile, just read through Amos or Habakkuk and see what God says to them…and to you.

After today, we’ll take a break from the Content and Context series. While it is good and helpful (I’ve learned many things in writing it!), we need some real how-to-parent-with-intentionality postings. I’ll intersperse the New Testament charts over the months ahead.



  • About: God’s covenant, Israel’s idolatry
  • God loves His people and wants them to have a faithful relationship with Him.
  • Big stories: Hosea loves his unfaithful wife, Israel worships other gods
  • Author: Hosea
  • Time: just before the fall of Israel/Northern Kingdom in 722bc (Isaiah, Amos)
  • “Who is wise? Let them realize these things. Who is discerning? Let them understand. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.” Hosea 14:9


  • About: locusts, Day of the Lord
  • God uses a natural disaster to remind the people of coming judgment followed by restoration.
  • Big stories: invasion of locusts, promises for the day of judgment
  • Author: Joel
  • Time: unclear, but probably before the fall of Jerusalem
  • “The Lord will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the heavens will tremble. But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.” Joel 3:16


  • About: social justice, honest worship
  • God wants His people to live with integrity, experiencing authentic worship.
  • Big stories: Amos’ calling, fat cows of Bashan, call to repentance
  • Author: Amos
  • Time: about 30 years before Israel went into captivity (Isaiah, Hosea, Jonah)
  • “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” Amos 5:24


  • About: Edom (shortest book in the Old Testament)
  • God will punish Edom for participating in Israel’s devastation.
  • Big stories: Edom’s failure to help Israel
  • Author: Obadiah
  • Time: probably just before the fall of Judah (Jeremiah)
  • “The pride of your heart has deceived you…you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’ Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,” declares the Lord. Obadiah 3-4


The sailors took hold of Jonah and threw his overboard. Immediately the storm stopped. – Slide 23
(c) freebibleimages.org
  • About: disobedience, ethnocentrism (belief that your culture is superior)
  • God cares about other people groups as well as His chosen people.
  • Big stories: Jonah swallowed by a fish, Jonah preaching to Nineveh
  • Author: maybe Jonah or maybe someone who knew him
  • Time: after Amos & Hosea but before the fall of Israel/Northern Kingdom
  • “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.’ Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh.” Jonah 3:1-3a


  • About: divine judgment and deliverance
  • God’s judgment is certain, but so is his restoration through the coming Messiah.
  • Big stories: prophecy about Bethlehem, call for social justice
  • Author: Micah
  • Time: before & after the fall of Israel/Northern Kingdom (Isaiah, Hosea)
  • “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8


  • About: fall of Nineveh
  • God’s people can be sure He will judge their oppressors.
  • Big stories: descriptions of Nineveh’s future destruction
  • Author: Nahum
  • Time: between the fall of Israel and of Judah (Zephaniah)
  • “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.” Nahum 1:7-8


  • About: complaints and questions to God
  • God’s timing is always perfect.
  • Big stories: God answers complaints, Habakkuk’s confidence in God
  • Author: Habakkuk
  • Time: before the fall of Jerusalem (Jeremiah)
  • “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.” Habakkuk 3:2


  • About: the Day of the Lord, judgment
  • God’s justice will prevail not only among His people but around the world.
  • Big stories: warnings for Judah and other nations
  • Author: Zephaniah
  • Time: between the fall of Israel and of Judah (King Josiah, Jeremiah, Nahum)
  • “Be silent before the Sovereign Lord, for the day of the Lord is near. The Lord has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited.” Zephaniah 1:7


  • About: priorities, the temple’s glory
  • God calls for His people to be faithful, then they will be blessed.
  • Big stories: rebuilding the temple, blessings for faithfulness
  • Author: Haggai
  • Time: 520bc, when exiles returned to rebuild the temple (Ezra/Nehemiah, Zechariah)
  • “’I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Haggai 2:7


  • About: encouragement, Messianic prophecies
  • God is sovereign and keeps His promises.
  • Big stories: vision dreams, social justice over fasting, the coming Messiah
  • Author: Zechariah
  • Time: after exiles returned to rebuild the temple (Ezra/Nehemiah, Haggai)
  • “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Zechariah 4:6


  • About: breaking the covenant, the coming King
  • While God will preserve a remnant, His judgment is surely coming.
  • Big stories: list of covenant violations, blessing for tithing, scroll of remembrance
  • Author: Malachi
  • Time: post-exilic (Nehemiah). Probably the latest of the OT prophets.
  • “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.” Malachi 4:2

A friend of mine just posted a poem about prophets. Since we’re in the Minor Prophets, it seems appropriate to share it *here*.

In the World (by means of movies)

A few obvious facts:

  1. We live in this world, like it or not.
  2. Much of this world is . . . well, worldly.
  3. God placed us in this world at this time. He placed our children here, too.
  4. The phrase “in the world but not of the world” is not in the Bible. Wait . . . This phrase is of the Bible but not in the Bible.  Haha!

Without doubt, we are raising our children in a wicked and depraved generation.  The other day, I was shocked—SHOCKED, I tell you!—by something I saw on television, and we’ve been back in the US for almost a year.  Our first tendency, justifiably, is to shield our children from any media that might pollute their pristine minds.  For the small ones, I wholeheartedly agree.  Ours didn’t watch actual television until after they started elementary school.  Before that, they had only pre-screened videos for their viewing pleasure.

As our children mature, however, our parenting must evolve.  We cannot continue to shield our children from everything that contradicts our worldview.  We have to teach our older children how to exist in this world, polluted as it is, and how to interact with people—sometimes powerful/influential people—who espouse a different worldview.  Inevitably, little Susie will watch something somewhere that doesn’t correspond to our distinct worldview.  How will she deal with it?  Not-so-little Sam will eventually read a book that questions the values you have worked so hard to instill in him.  How will he respond?  If you parent from your gut, you may teach them, “These things are bad!  Don’t watch/read/listen!”  Then, when Susie inadvertently sees the ‘bad’ thing, she will hide it from you because she might get in trouble.  When Sam intentionally reads the second book in the series because, well, his parents will never find out about the content, his curiosity has led him down a dangerous path.

Instead of parenting from your gut, what if you parent from your mind?  What if you train your children to evaluate everything they see, read, and hear in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  What if you prepare them in advance to healthily handle and respond to the media?  It’s called critical thinking.

Hear me correctly here.  I’m not advocating R-rated movies for nine-year-olds.  You know your children.  You know what their minds can safely handle and what their hearts can endure.  Plus, the MPAA ratings tell you almost nothing.  Better to check out Focus on the Family’s PluggedIn, IMDB’s parental guide (find the guide within each movie’s write-up), or Kids-n-Mind—great sites to better evaluate movies before you watch them.  (My husband and I do this for ourselves.  Parents must guard their own hearts too!)  Our first-born is more sensitive than our second.  Number Two has watched movies that number One hasn’t, but at the same time, One has watched more mature movies that we’re not comfortable showing to Two.

Anyway, over the last five years, we’ve developed a standard set of questions that follow just about every movie we watch as a family.  (We use it sometimes with books and music, but that’s more difficult unless everyone in the family reads the same book.  Random recommendation for that to happen:  The Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland.  We all love all of them!)  Someone usually starts the questioning over dinner the next night.  These questions have opened the gates for excellent discussions and spiritual growth using the world, being in the world but examining it as one set-apart (2 Corinthians 7:1).  Recently, I’ve heard both my children apply the same kinds of questions to books they read and movies they watch at school or friends’ homes.

1.  What did you like best about the movie? What was your favorite scene?

This is an easy ‘in’—a way to start talking about the movie that isn’t challenging.

2.  What didn’t you like?

Same idea.  Verbalizing the negative aspects of the movie helps us put it in perspective and increases their emotional vocabulary.  Why they didn’t like something is important.

3.  What character acted like Jesus?

This is a fascinating question.  Sometimes the hero is clearly the Christ-like one, but sometimes the villain has a moment of kindness that we notice only because we ask these kinds of questions.  If the movie was any good, we end up evaluating most all of the main characters and finding Truth in interesting places.  This question also challenges what the children know about Jesus and his behavior on earth.

4.  Who acts in an unchrist-like way?

Same thing here—great discussion.  Perhaps the hero/ine did something for noble reasons, but the ends couldn’t justify the means.  Perhaps the villain acts from a sense of revenge or vengeance which seems right on the surface, but in reality, contradicts our calling as Christ-followers.  If we can get down that far—to motive—we’ve really accomplished something in our discussion.

5.  What is the message of the movie? What point does this movie make?  Is that message/point something with which we agree as Christ-followers?

Honestly, every movie is “selling” a point-of-view, but sometimes it’s subtle.  If we don’t guard our hearts and minds, those viewpoints will seep in and cause all of us to slip away from real Truth.  By recognizing the message, we put it in an appropriate place in our minds rather than letting it affect us blindly.

At some point, one of us parents will insert a discussion of anything questionable, especially issues of violence, sex, death, or other “mature” themes.

What are we saying/modeling to our children by having these discussions?

1.  We can participate in this world and be entertained like our friends without accommodating the culture to the point of assimilation.

Having seen a popular movie, the children aren’t left out of discussions.  They don’t have to say, “My family didn’t watch that movie because we love Jesus,”—a judgmental statement whether you mean it that way or not! Instead, they have a chance (if they are willing to take it) to bring Jesus into an everyday conversation with a statement such as, “I liked [insert character’s name] because he acted like Jesus when he [insert situation from movie].”  What a fantastic opportunity for them to non-confrontationally share Christ!

2.  There are Truths, bridges, and images of God in most everything around us. We can dig them out, and they will help us understand God, ourselves, and the world around us.

3.  We can know what we believe and interact with those who don’t believe the same things without losing ourselves in their world. We are the foreigners here.

4.  We can recognize what is distinctive about our faith and distinguish faith issues from morality or just “being good.”

Just so you know, these conversations aren’t necessarily heavy or serious.  Listen in on this one, which came after watching Frozen.

Daughter:  You know,  Princess Elsa and the Incredible Hulk are similar.

Everyone else:  (with surprise)  What?

Daughter:  They both have a gift—or curse—that they can’t control, and they are afraid of hurting the person they love the most.

Everyone else:  Hmm.

Daughter:  Yeah, so they run away, but they are pursued by people who fear them but want to control them.  Then in the end, the person they love helps them come to terms with their gift or curse, whichever you want to call it.

Me:  Wow.

We were floored–Elsa and the Hulk?  Really?  And yet she was completely right.  Granted, it’s no great spiritual break-through, but it’s the kind of critical-thinking, dot-connecting exercise that will help her understand God better and do well as an adult.

This job of raising Christ-followers is no easy task.  Our set of critical-thinking questions is just one way to let a bit of “the world” into our home on our terms, with our limits and oversight, gradually preparing our children for this 21st-century world they have been called to inhabit.