Service - A Great Way to Fight Selfishness at Christmas

Service - A Great Way to Fight Selfishness at Christmas

The Christmas season can induce a selfish attitude in our kids if all they focus on is the gifts they'll get. Us this plan to counteract this selfish season.

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Christmas May Lose Its Magic For Teens

Christmas May Lose Its Magic For Teens

I'm the skinny kid in the photo above. It was the year Christmas changed for me--I was 13. For children, Christmas is magic. For teens, the magic can fade. Be aware of this and help your teen manage their expectations. You may need to manage yours as well!

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Create Some Margin For Parenting

Create Some Margin For Parenting

Parents often fill their days to the brim with good activities, but don't leave margin for the important tasks related to training. Training the heart of our children takes time and energy.

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Teaching Our Children As Jesus Taught

Teaching Our Children As Jesus Taught

            The term D6 (Deuteronomy 6) has become a banner over the cause of helping parents to become the primary faith trainers of their children. Verse 7 in that chapter tells us that parents should teach their children diligently, in the comings and goings of life. When I study how Christ taught, I see Him put this command into action in ways that we can imitate as parents.

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Marriage Is To Parenting As...

Remember those SAT analogy questions that gave you the deer in the headlights look? Most of them seemed about like this to me: regurgitation is to anathema as rapport is to... 

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Keeping Christ at the Center of Parenting

jesus_000 It's so demanding working with children that we sometimes forget what is central. As a parent, I often got sidetracked teaching my children to avoid bad friendships, avoid certain movies, avoid certain music, and avoid being in the wrong place with the wrong people. What I sometimes failed to do was simply focus on who to love and who to model after. As I look back on parenting, I wish I had spent more time simply expressing my love for Jesus, for His life, His choices, and His words.

In my own life, I find that the more I love Jesus, the less I succumb to temptation. If that’s true for me, I know it’s also true for my children. The Bible tells us this plainly in Galatians 5:16: “Walk by the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” For me, walking by the Spirit comes down to setting my affections, my thoughts, on Christ. Being Christocentric is not just a theological issue. It’s life and death for me and my family.


U R A Teacher (Whether U Want 2 B R Not!)

Learning to Read You are your child's first and most important teacher. Modeling is important, even critical. But direct teaching is also needed in many areas of life with children. Here are six suggestions for improving your teaching.

1. Look at your teaching style. Do you assume all you need to do is explain verbally? Do you get frustrated if the person you teach doesn’t “get it” right away? If so, recognize this as a point of need for yourself and learn to develop your teaching skills. Maybe the problem is that you learn so quickly you think everyone should learn at your pace. Consider your need to grow in patience. A spouse or trusted colleague can give you an honest appraisal of your teaching ability and patience level.

2. Study the way your child learns best. Recognize that everyone learns at a different pace, and each child possesses a unique learning style. Your child might be an auditory learner, retaining information better if spoken. She might be a visual learner, remembering better those things she can see. Nearly all of us benefit by having material presented in a variety of ways—via touch, hearing, vision, and through experience. Help your children understand the strengths and weaknesses in their learning styles.

3. Observe an expert teacher of your child's age group. Study how that teacher gets information across to children. Ask teachers for tips in working with children the ages of your son(s) or daughter(s). Notice how they gain and hold the attention of the group. Notice what questions they ask and listen for the quality of the responses.

4. Have a family meeting to discuss the rules for your household. Think through the rules that you simply can’t negotiate, but invite input from your children on the rules they might want to add. Help your children understand the values behind your house rules. Make sure you include rules that address proper attitudes. By inviting discussion, you are not abdicating your authority. You have final say in the rules and the consequences.

5. Consider the child's motivation when your child misbehaves or doesn't follow your instructions.  You may get more cooperation by gently going over the rules again than by resorting to the same consequence each time.

6. Learn to ask open-ended questions. Instead of asking if your child had a good day at school—which often nets a one-syllable reply—try asking about the craziest thing a teacher or student did today. Ask about their friends’ activities, clothes, or opinions. By asking about their friends (instead of them), you are more likely to get your children to talk and give you a picture into their world. Be sure not to judge their responses or pester them to respond in these relationship-building types of discussions.

You are constantly teaching your children, though you may not realize it. Maximize this part of parenting and you'll need to correct them less. That's a pretty good reason to teach well.


My Ten (or so) Favorite Parenting Books

Book-Week-Childhood-101 There are a handful of recent parenting books I keep on my shelf so that I can grab one quickly when families come to me for help. Write me back with your own 'top ten' list.

The following ten books are my "go-to's." I'm putting my own book in the "Honorable Mention" category. Can't number it with my ten favorite yet. I could have put in a number of greats from way back but I'll produce a 'legends' list later. (Hint, it will include the first parenting book I read back in 1975 - Dare to Discipline by James Dobson.) Here they are in no particular order.

1. (Listed first because it's the most recent one I've read): Rite of Passage Parenting - by Walker Moore (explains how our modern culture has created prolonged adolescence and irresponsibility. Great ideas on how to undo that trend and produce capable, responsible and self-reliant adults.)

2. Christian Parenting Handbook - by Turansky and Miller (50 chapters dealing with various parenting issues and ways to use a heart based approach in each issue)

3. Parenting With Scripture – by Kara Durbin (Common issues parents deal with are alphabetically listed and linked to related Scriptures that you can discuss with your child.)

4. The Slow Fade – Reggie Joiner and others (The best discussion of how the church can approach the problem of college aged kids leaving the faith. While written to church leaders, it has implications for parenting.)

5. Peacemaking for Families – by Ken Sande (essential tools and strategies for makingpeace within families: great for marriages, parent-child relationships, and all other relationships within the body of Christ.)

6. Everyday Talk – John A. Younts (A great discussion of how you put Deuteronomy 6:7 into practice through the routines of life.)

7. Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes [in You and Your Kids] – by Turansky and Miller (Best book on how to practice honor in home life so that your kids will ‘honor their father and their mother’)

8. Good and Angry [Exchanging Frustration for Character in You and Your Kids] – by Turansky and Miller (Best book on overcoming the anger that develops within families. Explores a range of issues including helping children accept no as an answer, and helping them learn not to lie.)

9. Parenting Is Heart Work – Turansky and Miller (A thorough discussion of the Bible’s view of the human heart. Includes the core of their teaching on heart based parenting and discipline in particular.)

10. Sacred Marriage – by Gary Thomas (best marriage advice for Christians I’ve ever read. Helps us realize God’s plans for us in marriage – that the difficulties are God’s way of discipling us. While this is not a parenting book, per se, it provides a strong foundation for your parenting.)

Honorable Mention:

Parenting UnChained – Overcoming the Ten Deceptions that Shackle Christian Parents - by James D. Dempsey (This book is important because it could awaken well-meaning Christian parents to dangers they don't yet see.)

Shepherding a Child’s Heart – by Ted Tripp (Some would put this number one on the list. It's very good, but I can't agree with his position that spanking is required to be a Christian parent. Spanking works with some kids but not all. Even more, some parents can't control their anger and thus should not spank.)

Give Them Grace – by Fitzpatrick and Thompson

Finding the Right Track – John A. Younts (A booklet really, but it packs a punch.)


Humility – A Necessity for Parenting

Parenting_Unchained_Cover_for_Kindle-2 The title indicates that my book is about parenting, but it's also about humility. Humility is a hard trait to acquire, and once you have it, it's fleeting. It's like the congregation that gave its pastor a special button in recognition for being humble, then promptly took it away when he wore it. I can see this dilemma in myself. I recognize the importance of humility and strive to be humble. As soon as I think I have achieved it, however, I'm tempted to be proud of that accomplishment.

Psychologist and philosopher Carl Jung said "Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune."  The key word from this quote is 'deceiving' because pride leads us into a false sense of ability. When we are proud and arrogant we are likely to think we can handle something without help. It's often at this time that we are most likely to fail. That's exactly what Proverb 16:18 tells us; 'pride goes before a destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.'

How does this apply to parenting? Too well, I'm afraid. One of the biggest problems we create for ourselves as parents is to think we can handle the difficulties of child-rearing by ourselves, without help. I've been in this situation so I speak from experience. I was good at the skill of getting my children to obey, and I knew a lot about child development and education. This resulted in two grave errors. I did not go to God for His help, nor did I look closely at other parents to find good role models. I didn't think I needed to, and that was arrogant.

I'm convinced that God makes parenting difficult (and our tendency to sin makes it even harder) so that parents will turn to Him for guidance. When we are ready to learn, God is ready to teach us. The Bible says as much in many places. James 1:5 says "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him." There's a key word in this verse too, and it's 'lack'. If you don't know that you lack wisdom, you won't ask. When I'm too confident to pray, I'm in trouble.

Here are three keys for parents to avoid arrogance in parenting.

  1. Don't compare your parent skills with others. Compare it to the perfection you see in Scripture. If you compare yourself to others, you will likely find plenty of parents doing stupid stuff, and you'll feel superior. You set a really low bar when you do that. Compare instead to the perfect parent that Jesus Christ was. "But He wasn't a parent!" you might say. True, but His love, patience, and wisdom were evident in the way He ministered to the crowd and trained His disciples. When I look at Jesus's perfect social interaction, I see myself in great need of His help.
  1. Acknowledge that your children will have trials, sin, and failure, regardless of how much you try to protect or insulate them. Since you can't protect them from every bad situation, you must realize they are in God's hands. You simply can't do all the protecting that needs to be done. Turn to God in prayer for your children
  1. Realize that in God's eyes, you aren't better than your kids. Older maybe, and temporarily wiser, that's true. But your value to God as an eternal soul is no higher or lower than your child's. God wants to move each of you, your child and you, into a closer relationship with Him. You are a sinner, and so is your child, and your role to train and teach is temporary. As they say, the ground is level at the foot of the cross, so be humble as you guide them.

My book, Parenting Unchained, discusses ten deceptions that shackle Christian parents. Each of these deceptions is aggravated by our arrogance. God provides antidotes for all ten deceptions, but a parent must be humble enough to look for them. You can find my book at Amazon or in the Store at this website.


At Long Last, An Honest View of Islam

Islam I've been wondering when someone would have the intellectual honesty to call Islam out for being the fertile ground from which ISIS grew. Islam is at its core and from its origin, a barbaric religion, and counter to what the God of the Bible stands for. Sure some will say the The Old Testament contained ethnic cleansing and called for stoning, but an honest reading of the Bible, Old and New Testaments, reveals God's purposes for mankind, and His call for justice AND mercy.

Islam, on the other hand, explicitly gives license to lie to, dispossess and murder those who do not submit to the prophet Mohammed or the Koran. And it took an unbeliever to state this clearly. Bill Maher, in an interview with Charlie Rose, even admits that Christianity is vastly different from Islam. Amen, brother. Go read and listen yourself. I doubt I'll agree with Maher on many points, but on this one distinction, we're sympatico.

Bill Maher on Charlie Rose

As the Bible says, you can tell a tree by its fruit.


Valuing Instruction: Mission Critical for Parenting

messy room Let's face it. Your child has an agenda different from yours. When you tell them to clean up so that you can get to school on time, it may be important to you but that does not mean your child sees any value in it. And when your children don't value your command, they resist obeying it. Understanding this simple concept helps you to empathize with them. It's hard to set aside your agenda just because someone else wants you to. Just as adults want to fulfill their agendas, kids do too.

So first of all, as you approach your child to give him or her a direction, consider whether this is the best time to give it. Is your child deeply engaged in something that is hard to set aside? If so, maybe waiting a few minutes would help foster the cooperation you want. Or, perhaps you can give them a 'two-minute warning' notice. "Johnny, in just a few minutes, I'm going to ask you to... I need you to be ready by then." You could even set a timer to signal to the child that now is the time to get ready to receive your direction.

Another important way to help your child set aside their agenda to follow your instruction is to teach them about the urgency of obedience. Children naturally are ego-centric, meaning they see the world through the limited framework of their own desires and experience. They need help to see the needs of others and value them. You see the urgency of a family need (to stay on schedule, to prepare a meal, to brush teeth and avoid a big dental bill) but your children may not. They have to be taught these views and values. How can we help children see the bigger picture and value the jobs you give them to do?

One way is to teach them what it means to go on a mission. When you give your child an instruction, you are in essence sending them on a mission. We need to teach children the right approach and mindset for going on a mission. Here's a fun way to introduce this concept with kids: (We'll do it in two phases) In phase one, talk with them about the kinds of jobs that have important missions. Let them suggest careers or jobs that involve missions (they might know about firefighters, ambulance drivers, soldiers, or astronauts, etc.) Read books about these kinds of helpers and the way they go about their work. Use humor by telling a silly story about a firefighter on the way to big fire who stopped by the ice cream store to buy ice cream. Of course, that would be absurd, right?

In phase two play a game with your child(ren) by setting up an obstacle course through your house. Have your child run the course and time them from a starting point to the ending point. Then have them run the course again and try to distract them or get them off course with a little enticement like candy or a worthless toy. After the fun, talk about how you sent them on a mission to run the obstacle course, but they didn't let anything stop them. Celebrate the fact that they didn't get distracted by the toy or candy. They completed their job as if they were on a mission! Use these fun experiences to remind your children later when you give them a real instruction. Help them see how your family runs more smoothly when they follow your instructions right away.

When I operated my own business, the term "mission critical" was the topic of books and seminars for success. When something is mission critical, its absence results in the failure of the mission. In other words, it is essential to fulfilling the primary goal. Teaching your children the value of instruction is mission critical in the job of parenting. Obedience is a great goal, but developing a heart to follow your instructions is an even greater goal. Proverbs 3:1 captures the main point of the whole book – "My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments." Punishment might bring about obedience, but if you want children to value instruction, then you must teach them its worth.





Concrete Thinkers, Sin, and Salvation

babylegs The young mom pulls out a baby book to show her 5-year-old son his history. She wistfully points to an ultrasound picture with a clear outline of the son.

Mom: "That is a picture of you when you were in my belly."

The little guy makes a rather shocked and surprised face.

The 5-year-old: "You ATE ME?"

Many of our funniest children's stories come from the literal interpretation of words our youngsters hear.

Why is that? Well, children prior to puberty process information in a stage of development researcher Jean Piaget called the concrete thinking stage. This sort of thinking is rigid and doesn't bend quickly to consider alternative meanings of words (or a phrase like "in my belly.") Children in this stage (6 to 12 years, generally) can be taught these new meanings, and once they hear them, they love the humor that comes from the double meanings of words. But that's not the natural way they process information.

Children in the concrete stage of thinking also have a hard time reconciling two apparently opposite conditions. One such conundrum occurs when a parent does something the child knows to be wrong. On the one hand, the parent is the image of perfection. Mom or Dad can do no wrong from their child's point of view. But what if Dad leaves Mom for another woman, or Mom takes drugs and flakes out? These are extreme examples, certainly, but lesser failures also present challenges to children at this age. A wise parent will act quickly to help the child understand life, sin, and how to move forward appropriately.

One common example happens when a parent tells a 'little white lie' and the child overhears it. Or you say a bad word; a word that you've said was off limits in your home. When you as a parent commit a wrong, admit it, repent in the presence of the child, and ask for their forgiveness as well. This is a great opportunity to go to the Scriptures to help clarify the sin you just committed. When you do this, you help point to the source of all values—not to some nebulous and fleeting consensus of what is right and wrong, but the eternal benchmark of God's word. This is the benchmark your child will come back to in years ahead.

Help your concrete-thinking child learn that all are sinners, and all of us need to ask for forgiveness. Children at this age have a hard time seeing the world in any shade other than black and white, so forgiveness is a hard concept for them to grasp. They can easily understand hell and condemnation, since they will readily tell you that the person who violates a rule must be punished (even if they didn't break the rule intentionally). They can understand God's perfection and the holiness of heaven. These are the black and white of good and evil. Children must be taught that, while God's punishment is justified, there is forgiveness for the rule-breaker but only when we look to Christ. I'm glad God doesn't let us stay in the land of the concrete thinker, but makes a way to reconcile us to Himself.


How to Help Kids Through a Divorce

Bandaid1 “…most adult children of divorce report their parents’ breakup as their most painful life experience.”  Edward Teyber, author of Helping Children Cope With Divorce Divorce is rarely good for the kids involved. Divorce ushers in a cascade of changes affecting children. Here are a few of those changes likely to occur:

  • The presence of one or both parents is reduced.
  • Living arrangements change.
  • Some parents relocate - new school, new church, new friends, new authority figures.
  • Finances are stressed.
  • New people come into their social circles.

What can be done to help a child going through this whirlpool of events? If your own child or someone close to you is affected by a divorce, decide to keep a C-A-T in the house (not the feline variety!):

C – Consistency

A – Availability

T – Tranquility

CONSISTENCY - In light of the changes swirling around the child, changes he has no control over, you can help by keeping routines consistent. Don't make unnecessary changes to schedules, schools, churches, or neighborhoods. Be especially sensitive to keeping the support network of friends and family stable. As much as possible be consistent in your own parenting. Don't change your stance on what is allowed or forbidden as regards your rules. Resist the temptation to try to make up for life's hardships by becoming lenient. Certainly you may need to create special times to get away and focus on your relationship with your child, but don't let your rules for right and wrong get set aside.

AVAILABILITY – Take stock of the amount of time your child spends with you and the other parent. Be aware of any reduction, and take whatever steps you can to be present in your child's life. Preserve any routine that involves your relationship. If you have a routine of talking together right after school, then do everything you can to keep that routine in place. Even if your work or travel schedule requires a change, set a conference call to keep that line of communication open. Be prepared for resistance on their part. They may blame you and try to punish you with silence. Confidently wait them out without berating them or pestering them.

TRANQUILITY – Keep your cool and allow them the room to go through the grieving process at their own pace. Pray. Alot. Seek your own counsel from appropriate sources like mature friends, pastors, or trained counselors. DO NOT allow the child to become your counselor. That happens if you pour out your anguish to them. Many children will gladly step into the role of comforter, but this will not end well. It reduces the respect they have for you, gives them unhealthy power over you, and ultimately scares them. You can be somewhat honest about your need for help, but show them that there are places you can go for support. This confirms for them that the world is still predictable and safe. If you are a person of faith, you show them faith in action as you demonstrate hope for the future and confidence in yourself and in your child. You model for them the right way to handle life's problems as you get help from the right places.

Be sure you do plenty of listening to your child. Repeatedly explain that the divorce is not the result of anything the child did. The egocentric nature of childhood sometimes causes children to think everything is tied to their own actions. Don't rush into another relationship as this adds another layer of complexity of the child's world.

Don't belittle the other parent even if they deserve it. You can tell the truth of the matter in age appropriate ways, but bashing the other parent puts the child in an emotional bind. Follow the Bible's advice to "speak the truth in love."

Avoid divorce if you can because the effects are far-reaching and long-lasting in your child's life. But if it has already happened, put these suggestions in place and pay close attention to your child's handling of this trauma. Remember to provide a CAT of consistency, availability, and tranquility in your home.


Divorce Hurts Kids - Even Rich Ones

broken-familyI love kids, which means I hate those things that hurt kids. And divorce is one of those things I hate. Don't get me wrong. I don't hate people who have suffered through divorce, I simply hate the prevalence of unnecessary divorces in our culture today. I've seen unnecessary divorce hurt my nieces and nephews and their parent--my sibling--so I've seen it first hand. I've also studied the effects on children reported in many research studies. That research is unified and clear. Children from divorced homes suffer hardships in much higher incidence than children from intact homes. To a child, a divorce is not simply an event, it is a cascade of events that serves to de-stabilize and emotionally traumatize the child. It often means a loss of one parent or the other for some period of time. Judith Wallerstein's studies in the 90's showed that 10 years post divorce, two-thirds of fathers were totally absent from their children’s lives. Let that sink in a moment.

Divorce also often means a loss of financial stability, a loss of a familiar home as living arrangements change, a loss of school and church relationships as some parents move to start over, resulting in loss of friends or support networks. Yes, there are rare occasions when a divorce is necessary and ultimately beneficial to the child. But children, even grown ones decades later, will tell you that they would prefer their parents stay together even if it means added tension in the home.

Some would say that these dire effects ensue only if the parents are poor, but that's not true. A recent article by W. Bradford Wilcox in Family Studies (the blog of the Institute for Family Studies) says...

"People who get divorced are more likely to lose their homes, to stop pooling income, and to fall into poverty. So when divorce strikes, or families fail to form in the first place, there is less money for the necessities of life, not to mention the problems facing all too many poor and working-class kids, from bad schools to dangerous neighborhoods.... Safety net programs can mitigate some of these problems to a limited extent, but as described above, family breakdown takes a toll even on rich kids."

"As Urban Institute economist Robert Lerman noted, a substantial body of research suggests that on average, at every socioeconomic level, families headed by a continuously married couple will earn more money and accumulate more wealth than other types of families with similar educational and personal backgrounds."

Here's a chart from the article to illustrate their findings:


The key comparison from the chart shows that 54% of children of continuously married mothers manage to stay in the top third of American income earners, while only 37% of children of divorced mothers stay in the top third. Parents' divorce hurts the earning potential of their children.

Another chart in the study shows that college graduation rates suffer due to parents' divorce, even among parents who themselves graduated from college. So divorce costs you, and it costs your kids not only emotionally and socially, but financially.

There are plenty of reasons I hate the prevalence of divorce in our society. I share this information with parents not to make a divorced parent feel bad but to help married couples commit to do their best to protect their marriages. If for no other reason, do it for the kids.


Parent Involvement - A Key to Success in School

Key in Lock Teachers all over the country are gearing up for the beginning of school, and that involves training. I'm excited to provide training this week for  teachers at two churches, one in Austin and one in Houston. I'll be sharing practical ways teachers can connect with parents and involve them in the educational process. Understandably then, I've been giving a lot of thought to the teacher's role in parent involvement.

But there's another side to this equation, and that's how parents can seek to be involved in their child's education. Teachers can do their best to encourage parent involvement, but if parents don't want to be involved, teachers can't force it.

That's why I've decided to write to parents to help you understand your role, then to seek involvement in your child's education, both at school and at church. First, before we get to methods, let me address motivation. Parents sometimes think that only trained teachers are able to teach, and this causes parents to 'back off' and stay away from their child's school. The truth is, parents remain the primary influencer in their child's life, even after children reach their teens. It's good for parents to respect the gifts and expertise of teachers, but it's not good to over-value the teacher's role and under-value parents' own role.

Plenty of research exists to show that children whose parents are engaged and involved with schoolwork perform better in a variety of measures. Parents bring much to the equation that even the best teachers cannot duplicate:

  • Parents know their own kids, and can help tailor content and teaching style.
  • Parents have one-on-one time that teachers just don't have.
  • Parents model their approach to learning by instilling a work ethic.
  • Parents model an interest in education by getting involved, and children see this.

Assuming this gets you motivated, how should you get involved? Let me suggest five starter steps. Where you go from there will depend on the particular wishes of your child's school.

Step 1. Tell your child's teacher you are interested in what they do. Express support for them and thank them for their work each day. Teachers are people too, and they are more likely to seek you out if you express your support.

Step 2. Take advantage of opportunities the school or church affords, like parent conferences, open houses, and drop off or pick up times. Whenever you are on campus, read posted notices, and check out the classroom to see what the children have been doing. This will give you more to talk to your child about on your ride home.

Step 3. Read carefully everything your church or school gives you – handbooks, calendars, and take-home notes. They've put lots of time and effort into sharing important information with you.

Step 4. Ask an administrator or your teacher what you can do to help. Your assistance is an investment in your own child's education.

Step 5. This may be the most critical: Extend the learning from the classroom to home. Research suggests that the number one way to help your child is to reinforce what they've learned at school. Just think about it—if you take the time to repeat an object lesson or discuss the teaching point from your child's class time, you send a strong message that what they learned is important.

Scripture indicates that parents are responsible for their child's growth and development, more than churches or schools. So don't simply out-source your child's education. Remain actively involved. When it comes to your child's education, both secular and sacred, the buck stops with you.


Can Your Child Balance Assertiveness and Kindness?

bully Bully or Doormat: How About Neither?

Parents sometimes feel like they must walk a fine line in training their children to be kind. As a parent, I want my child to learn to stand up for himself and not be a victim of others' aggressiveness. But I don't want my child to be the bully either. How do we teach our children to have the proper respect for others yet not take a back seat all the time?

Now that my kids are grown, I can look at this situation with a more balanced view. Admittedly, it's hard to do so when you're making decisions affecting your own children since your parental pride and fears for them get in the way. It's easier now for me to think through my values, look for good examples, and come up with a set of rules. There are plenty of verses in the Bible that command us to be kind, love one another, and put others' needs ahead of our own, yet that same book sets out rules for self-defense and fairness. How much should parents expect of their children who, because of their young age, see only their own points of view and thus often act selfishly?

These are big questions, and the answers will vary based on the ages of our children. Of course, a two year old has limited ability to understand the point of view of another person, express empathy, or set his own needs aside. They will spend years learning these character traits. In the meantime, how should parents train their children to act in real-life situations? Let's bring this dilemma down to a particular age to help a four, five, or six-year-old child develop a proper balance between assertiveness and sacrifice for others.

Little Tommy is 5 years old, and regularly plays with Caleb who lives on his street. When Tommy gets together with him, they spur each other to lots of unproductive behavior. Tommy's mom wants Tommy to get along, 'play nice', and not argue. But Caleb is selfish and aggressive, and Tommy tends to always give in. Here are some principles mom can teach Tommy.

1. You can be nice and still say 'NO'. Always look an aggressor in the eye and use your words loud enough to be heard.

2. Fairness involves getting your way some of the time, and making sure others get their way some.  It involves more than just sharing toys, it's sharing leadership, taking the first turn some of the time, and choosing what game to play some of the time.

3. If your friend can't agree to principle number 2, maybe he isn't ready to be a friend. (From time to time, children will violate this principle and act selfishly. But if this is a persistent pattern from one child or the other, training and discipline needs to happen before they play together again.) Tommy's parents will need to decide if they can influence Caleb to share leadership. If not, maybe Tommy needs a hiatus from Caleb.

4. AFTER trying to work out problems yourself, it's ok find a parent to help.

5. If your friend wants to keep things secret from a parent, there's usually something wrong.

6. Self-defense is Biblical, but peace-making is always the right aim. When we teach our children about being a peace-maker, it gives them a vision for fairness. Fairness brings peace, but the reverse is also true: Unfairness eventually results in strife.

7. Honor is important in every relationship. In a previous article I gave you this working definition for honor: treat others as special, do more than is expected, and have a good attitude. Help your child apply this definition with friends by planning ahead. Before having a friend over, discuss with your child what that friend might like (treating as special), what might surprise them (doing more than expected), and what attitude we should have before friends come over.

Parent, discuss with your spouse your standards for kindness with assertiveness. Teach your standards before play dates, then de-brief with your child after a play date. In my next post, I'll share a great conversation routine for just such a de-brief.


The Merciful Doctor

A young girl is sick and having her temperature taken.  





I went to my family doctor last month with a bad cold, and he gave me a prescription and a shot, and sure enough I got better quickly. While I was there, he spotted a suspicious lesion on my forehead and said I needed to get it looked at right away. He set me up for a biopsy immediately. Yikes! We all know what that means.

I got the biopsy done and had about five days to wonder what the future would hold. On one hand, it could be nothing. But on the other hand, it could be melanoma, a deadly cancer. Those five days dragged, as time moved slowly that week. I’m thankful that the news I got was that it was not cancerous, but if it had been, the doctor would have been most merciful to tell me so. Anyone would be angry if a doctor found some deadly disease in us but did not let us know about it. What if he had said to himself, “I just don’t have the heart to tell this guy he’s got cancer, so I think I’ll just be quiet.” I’d be furious, and you would be too! Attorneys would be licking their chops to help you bring a lawsuit.

Against all logic, some don’t want this same approach when it comes to something even more deadly than cancer. If we are sinners, and the Bible says that we all are, then we have the sentence of death. Romans 6:23 says ‘the wages of sin is death’ and if God took us to court, we would lose.

Recently a famous pastor was criticized for saying that Muslims, Jews, and all non-Christians will go to hell unless they repent and accept Jesus Christ as Savior. There was a firestorm of criticism, calling this pastor hateful, bigoted, and a nutcase. His Baptist church was called the “hate church”. But what if he is only saying what the Bible says? The Bible records Jesus’ own words saying “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH ME.” (John 14:6) In essence, Jesus says you must trust Christ in order to have eternal life. Even more hateful, Jesus says ‘unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish.’ (Luke 13:3) Is Jesus hateful, or is He a faithful doctor who is telling sick patients that they will die if they don’t get the right prescription?

God is Holy, and will purge sin from His world. In His courtroom He will call it out and judge it. But God is also merciful, and His mercy is expressed through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus took the punishment you deserve. If you reject Jesus’ death as payment for your sins, you reject the only prescription for your terminal disease. It’s the only chemo for the melanoma called sin.


The Value of Free Play

kids-play-outside Have you ever heard of the term “executive function?” Sounds like something Republicans and Democrats would argue over, doesn’t it? But in child development research, it refers to the ability of a child to plan, self-regulate, consider an option, and make a decision. New studies, and my own experience, suggest that children gain this highly valuable skill through free play. Good child care centers include in the schedule plenty of time for free play, undirected by adults and teachers.

An increasing trend in our country is to schedule every moment of our children’s day and year. In the past, children spent lots of time playing games of their own invention. More and more, children move from one structured time to another, from highly organized school sessions to soccer lessons, tutoring, dance class, or any number of pursuits. Parents sometimes overvalue the specialized training that comes from directed activity. But research clearly shows that executive function, which is cultivated by free play, prepares children for success In life by helping them solve problems independently.

A recent article in The Atlantic states that executive function...

"is a vital part of school preparedness and has long been accepted as a powerful predictor of academic performance and other positive life outcomes such as health and wealth. The focus of this study is “self-directed executive function,” or the ability to generate personal goals and determine how to achieve them on a practical level. The power of self-direction is an underrated and invaluable skill that allows students to act productively in order to achieve their own goals.

The authors studied the schedules and play habits of 70 six-year-old children, measuring how much time each of them spent in “less structured,” spontaneous activities such as imaginative play and self-selected reading and “structured” activities organized and supervised by adults, such as lessons, sports practice, community service and homework. They found that children who engage in more free play have more highly developed self-directed executive function. The opposite was also true: The more time kids spent in structured activities, the worse their sense of self-directed control."

Parents, when you pick up your child from your child's school or child care, don't always equate progress with some "take home" of art or a worksheet. In these early years, children need to play, and that means the process is more important than the product. You might ask your child's teacher, "what did the children play today?" My own masters thesis and doctoral studies looked at the connection between free play, creativeness, and question-asking behavior. I found that higher levels of free play were significantly related to both creativity and the frequency with which children ask questions. You should value play and encourage it. It promotes growth in language, social skills, and in executive function.

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Our Border Crisis - What's Missing?

crowd of refugeesThe images are sad and disturbing, but I suspect none of us seeing it on tv understands the real scope of the problem. Kids, already a long way from home, brought across a border into a strange new country, are being distributed by bus and plane to locations around our country.  Not just a few, but thousands; 60,000 this year so far. What's been missing in every conversation on every news station, both conservative and liberal, is the notion of parents being responsible. Missing in the picture above is any parent. We can talk about 3.7 billion dollars being enough or not, but there's no amount of money that magically creates the only real solution, and that's parents. They are missing--from the photo and from the conversation about solutions. I care about kids, and often I care for them. I care for my grandkids and I care for the kids at church on occasion. It's hard work. It is hard work to feed, clothe, bathe, diagnose, treat, and house them. But these are the relatively easy parts. The harder part is knowing them, comforting them, encouraging them, teaching them, correcting them, loving them--in short, parenting them. Who is going to do that? Until that question comes into the national conversation, we are you-know-whating into the wind. Sorry, but that's the West Texas phrase that comes to this West Texan mind. Any matter that has to do with kids better consider the need for parents. Governments and institutions can rightly support parents, but they can't take their place.

Politicians need to get this right, or we can make this crisis even worse for these and other children. This is a good time for us to pray for our national leadership. We need God's guidance. I'm praying that someone has the sense to get these kids back to their parents. I'm sure the parents thought this would be best for their kids, but it's not. It's not best, and it's not right. God can care for these children through loving surrogates, just as He did for Moses. He was another child sent into the river for a better life. Maybe that's where you and I come in, but even for Moses, God sent a family to care for him and allow him to grow. Raising a child is a job for a parent, not a federal agency.


Introducing My New Book - Parenting UnChained

Screenshot 2014-05-10 09.37.05 The publication date of my book is drawing closer. I expect it by July 1, so in a bit of a tease, I'd like to share two excerpts to give you an overview of the book. In the first excerpt, I share from the introductory chapter, and answer directly the reader's question:

How Can Reading Parenting Unchained Help?

"If you haven’t figured it out already, Satan is a liar. And if parenting is important to God, rest assured that Satan wants to deceive parents and disrupt the transmission of their faith. Satan wants you to take your eyes off of the most important aspects of parenting and put your focus on trivial or even destructive things. Parenting Unchained helps you keep the most important principles of parenting in mind while avoiding Satan's traps. It gives you insight to make important educational and child-care decisions, and it reminds you of the importance of simply being present. Parenting Unchained explains the biblical motives for modeling, discipline, and instruction, illuminating the methods that Jesus, the Master Teacher, used. It teaches you how to help your children find their ultimate purpose in life and lays out the three final steps that will launch your children toward their unique futures.

The family is God's idea, and He intends it to be a setting for disciple making. The family is the bridge to the next generation of disciples. Sadly, this bridge is cracking under the weight of prodigal children and their discouraged parents. Satan has played a leading role in this devastation by telling lie upon lie. Parenting Unchained will help you break Satan's chains so you can lead your children to lay a foundation of faith."

In this second excerpt, I sum up the last chapter of the book by focusing on a challenge to parents:

“The challenge of this book is not just for you to let your children go out into the world; my message is to prepare them and then send them. Send them out armed with that strong foundation of relationship you formed with them. Your unconditional love is their introduction to God. Send them out with a tank full of memories of your presence in their lives. Send them out with a mental imprint of your genuine life in Christ modeled before them, disciplined in love and taught by your wise words. Send them out clothed with the experience of your family’s mission and passion. And finally, send them out armed with an active prayer life and the knowledge of the Holy Spirit. The best news is that if they have the Holy Spirit, He won’t be content just to give them knowledge. He’ll go with them, in the secret compartment of their hearts.”