Every good parent feeds their children regularly, 3 meals a day if possible. Sometimes meals consist of a sandwich or two. Meals help our children grow physically. A sandwiched comment can help our children grow in character emotionally and spiritually.
Alec is 6 years old. He gets frustrated reading out loud. When left to his own devices, he takes hints from the pictures and guesses the content of passages. His daddy is trying to help him read at bedtime.
“Okay, son. You read the first paragraph and I’ll read the next,” daddy coaxes his reluctant son, making the task a joint effort.
“You read it all to me, daddy. I don’t feel like it tonight.”
“Aw, son, you know your teacher told us to help you keep up with your reading. I understand how hard it is for you at times, but maybe we can struggle through it together. Okay? Let’s give it a try.”
Adam turned his back to his dad and grumbled to himself. Dad saw the emotional fever mounting and tried active listening. “It’s tough trying hard things, huh. You’re frustrated.”
Adam turned back to his daddy. “What do you do when you’re frustrated, daddy?” His dad told him a relevant story that happened at his work this past week and concluded, “Well, even though it was tough, I tried. I didn’t do it perfectly, but trying and getting more of it right helped me want to try more.” His dad then tickled his son and encouraged him to try reading. After struggling through the storybook, dad noted, “Look at you. You tried even though you didn’t want to. You missed a few words, but you used your phonics rules to sound them out. Let’s keep trying every night until you get it, okay son? I’m so proud of you.”
What dad used is what’s called “The Sandwich Effect.” When helping your child with hard things, or with making needed changes, start with a praise statement. Follow that with a critique. Conclude with another praise statement. This learning sandwich goes down much better for children. The credit you give them helps reinforce the learning. When looking for change, give your child a sandwich.
We’ve all been through the “Hormone Wars,” both our own and our children’s. Some of us have been through the wars more than once. It’s true that hormones will wreak havoc with our bodies, our families, and our relationships. Because these wars are a given, it’s important to identify, own, and plan for them.
Mandy is 13. She’s been having menstrual periods regularly for a couple of months now and she is perpetually annoyed by them. Her mom had prepared her, but going through it and talking about it seem to be two different things.
“Mama, this is gross. Yuck. Can I just do something to stop my period?” Mandy pleaded with disgust. “Aw, baby, I know it’s unpleasant, but you know, it’s just part of being an adult woman.” Mandy protested, “But I’m only 13. It’s not fair. I don’t like it.”
Her mama had given her the Biblical reasoning for women’s periods, the Adam & Eve story. She had also given her the medical reasons. They hadn’t, however, really talked about the mood and attitude changes with having her period. Now was the time for that talk.
Mandy’s mom agreed to be aware of the time of the month for her daughter. She would give her discreet prompts and encourage preparations. Medical research concludes that the emotional impact of menstruation can be improved when teens and women increase their physical activity and use a hypoglycemic diet, which is low sugar/low caffeine intake the week before menstrual flow begins. Mom suggested her daughter jog, walk the dog daily, or get into sport or workout as regular health conditioning. She also agreed to have healthy low sugar/low caffeine snacks and meals for that preceding week.
For issues of mood and attitude, mom offered to cut her daughter some slack, as long as Mandy did not cross the disrespect line and corrected her slip-ups. As with all emotional fevers, active listening is your go-to response when your child has mood or attitude issues. Mandy did not like the bottom line. It is what it is. She did, however, appreciate her mom’s efforts to understand and to adjust.
Do you like surprises? Some people do. Some do not. Most who don’t like surprises have some difficulty with self-consciousness, being the center of attention, or losing control. Others have had a bad experience with surprises and the memory lingers.
Transitions are not necessarily surprises. In fact, most transitions are very normal. However, we can even be thrown off our game by normal, expected transitions.
For school children, normal daily transitions include from asleep to awake, from home to school, from classroom to connections or lunch, from school to home, and from awake back to asleep. Sounds like normal stuff, but the issues most children will find often occur around or because of these and other, unexpected changes.
Eight year old Joey was a bear to get up in the morning. Every day mom felt like she was wrestling an alligator. She started being pleasant and low-key. “Hey, fella. It’s another glorious day. The sun is shining and your friends are waiting to say ‘hi’ to you at the bus stop. Let’s get some good breakfast and you can be on your way.”
Every morning, mom started out being pleasant, but Joey will have none of it. “Awww, ma. Just a few more minutes. I promise I will get up then.” And the battle begins. Some days Joey complies. Other day’s mom resorts to yelling and threatening.
For mornings and other transitions for your children, consider giving them a 5 to 10 minute heads up. First, in a quiet time away from transitions, talk to your child about how transitions are going. Active listen his feelings about change and share your frustrations with helping him adapt. Conclude with, “Sooo, looks like we have a problem and neither one of us likes how this has been going. Any suggestions?”
The “heads up” rule is a universal starting point. Adjust bed time and awakening time to account for the extra 5 to 10 minutes transition. Minimize conflict by pre-planning. For example, help him get school clothes and book bag ready the night before. Make decisions about breakfast with input the night before. Smooth out other potential wrinkles ahead of time to allow for an easy transition. Finally, mark out a trial period for all of the changes and identify reward and consequence based on your child’s efforts and response.
Transitions can be tough, but the “heads up” rule can help them go better for all of you.
We all live in a fast-paced era of computers and electronics. Many families struggle with the proverbial tail wagging the dog. Is that your home?
“Jason? Dinner, son.” His dad called out from downstairs, while Jason continued gaming on his computer in his bedroom. A pile of homework lay untouched on his desk next to his bed.
“Jason! Come on, son. Don’t let your dinner get cold.” Jason could hear frustration in his dad’s voice. He called out, “Okay, Dad. In a minute. Just let me get to where I can pause this game.”
“No, son. Now! Put the game up and get down here.” Jason paused his game and started downstairs. “Geez, Dad. Don’t get your panties in a wad.”
This kind of hassle and disrespect on both sides can be eased with a few additional house rules. Computers, cell phones, smart phones all have great, unbelievable benefit to our lives. Research, information, and fun are all easier, faster, and more readily available. The question is, though, at what cost? When electronics interfere with, or take the place of, relationships, especially in your family, it’s time for a family meeting. Talk about the impact, the trade-off, the needs and feelings, and find a way to safeguard family and relationship while also benefitting from all of these electronics.
Currently, there is a Wait Until 8th movement that encourages parents to not get their younger children smart phones until at least they are in the 8th grade. Some phone services offer contract plans with GPS, texting and calling only to specified numbers, but no apps. A Colorado physician who instigated Parents Against Underage Smart Phones (known as PAUS) found that 13-15 million kids in the US are on devices without content restrictions. Parliament in the country of Ireland passes a law this year, The Internet Access for Minors Law, 2017, where parents can be fined when found that their children under age 14 are on internet enabled devises unsupervised.
A couple of suggestions for kid-friendly, family-friendly use of electronics. First, limit gaming to 1 hr/day for children and only after homework and other duties are completed. Second, have as many family meals together as you can, and have them without electronics. Finally, collect electronics from your children at bedtime, so they can enjoy more and longer quality sleep. Return them in the morning.
Consider these rules for electronics in your family and you will find both respect and relationships dramatically improving.
“Aww, Ma. Do I hafta? We just did all this stuff in school today,” 8-year old Adam complained. “Can we just skip homework tonight? I promise I’ll to all of it tomorrow night.” Mom raised her eyebrows, looking skeptical of Adam’s assurances.
This kind of parent-child exchange is typical of what is frustratingly referred to as “the homework wars.” Almost all families with school-aged children have some version of this. Doing homework becomes a nightly battle, a test of wills with your otherwise wonderful, loving youngster. It is a test of wills, an opportunity to set healthy boundaries with your child, and a pathway to successful academics.
In my book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, I caution that children will always test the limits. This is not because they want to be free of them. It’s to be sure that they are there. What child says, “Oh boy. I have lots of homework tonight. I can’t wait to get started and practice what I’ve learned today in school.” Shall we say…not many.
In this test of wills, your child wants you to set the firm boundary. The answer to his question, “Do I hafta?” is a resounding “yes.” However, the wars ramp up when each side digs in for battle. Do you want to avoid the homework wars? Then don’t engage. Doing the homework is not an option. How your child does it is negotiable.
Have this discussion outside of homework time. Engage your child in a curious discovery of what works best for him. Decide on a designated homework spot, e.g., desk in his room, kitchen table. Talk about the time that works best for him, e.g., right after getting home from school, after dinner. For elementary school-aged students, sit beside your child and coach/tutor as needed, but without doing any of it for him. For middle school students, be in the proximity of where they are doing homework. Be available. Encourage with “how’s it going in there?” For high schoolers, encourage their good work habits. Where low or failing grades are the outcome, homework time becomes study time to bring the grades up.
When the process is well-defined, put it into place for a short period of time, a week or two, with reward or consequence in place for after the time frame is over. Revise as needed, but be firm with your limits. You can survive the homework wars by negotiating a peace treaty that involves your child successfully getting his homework finished.
If your answer to this question is “no,” forgive me, but either you are lying, clueless, or gullible. All children lie. Some just better than others. The question is, what do we as parents do about it?
Four-year old Mandy slips unnoticed into the family living room, as her mom is in the kitchen finishing clean-up from supper. Mom pauses in her work and just listens. She hears nothing. “Mandy, sweetheart, what are you doing?” she calls out. After a longer than expected silence, Mandy responds, “Nothing.” Mom puts up her drying towel and goes to find her daughter.
In the living room, Mandy was attracted to the shiny, glass figurine of a ballerina that had been up on a too-high-for-her shelf in the bookcase. She had slid a plastic play chair over to the bookcase and was reaching for the figurine when her mom rounded the corner to the living room.
“Mandy!” The little girl froze at the sharp call of her name, losing her grip on the figurine. It fell to the floor and crashed into little pieces. Mandy teetered standing on the chair. Mom rushed to catch her, saving her from spilling to the ground as well.
“Ooh, baby. It’s okay. I’ve got you.” Soothed her mom, assuring that her preschooler was all right. Mandy sat in her mom’s arms and began to whimper. Mom rocked her gently until Mandy calmed.
With crisis averted, mom is at a choice point. Is this about power or relationship? Is this about mom’s authority or Mandy’s choices? If mom goes the power route, she scolds her daughter and punishes her. “What were you thinking, young lady?” Mom begins to pick up the pieces of the figurine. “You grandmother gave this to me after I won a dance contest as a teen. Now look at what you’ve done.” Mom vents at her daughter’s expense. Mandy cries softly, but pulls away from her mama, feeling distant and guilty.
If mom goes relationship and choices route, she calms her daughter and they carefully pick up the pieces of the figurine together. As they do so, mom asks, “Honey, I’m glad you’re okay, but what were you thinking? This isn’t like you. What else is going on?” Mom’s observations and questions open the door to understanding Mandy’s feelings through active listening. When settled, mom can address Mandy’s poor choice, set healthy boundaries, and give her a brief consequence to help her make better choices in the future. A crisis averted becomes a teachable moment.
“Awww, mama, do I hafta?” As parents, how many times a day do we hear that plea, or one like it, from our children? Give most children a direction or task that takes away from what they are doing in that moment, and expect the fuss and resistance. In my book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, I devote an entire chapter to this fact. Children will always test the limits. Children want to be helpful and cooperative, but their direction is oftentimes elsewhere. By setting healthy boundaries, with expectations, we can help our children turn those have-to’s into want-to’s.
“Sweetheart, it’s almost time to go to bed. You need to put all of your toys and stuffed animals back into the toy box, and then I’ll help you get ready for bed.” Megan’s mama was well-intentioned with this direction, but she left Megan with some wiggle room and frustrated with one more have-to task that she’d rather not do.
So, what are the possible outcomes here? If Megan wants to stay up longer, she can stall by not getting down to the clean-up task. Mom did qualify that she would put her to bed after the cleanup. Megan could also ignore her mom’s direction, drag her feet, or do the task poorly. Any of these options could lead to mommy getting mad and Megan having upset right before bedtime. This could lead to restless sleep, nightmares, or other disruption to her health.
How can mom encourage Megan to turn what she sees as a have-to, unfun chore into a want-to? There are several options. Young children typically respond positively to challenges. “I bet you can’t pick all this stuff up before I count to 50.” They are also appreciative of help. “Come on, sweetie, you take that side and I’ll take this side of your playroom.” Reward works as well. “Megan, if you get this chore finished before your bedtime, we can spend more time together, and I’ll read you a second story.”
Any of these options help your child turn a have-to into a want-to. Always active listen their feelings, frustrations, reluctance. Remind them of the benefits of doing things they might not want to do at first. Turning have-to’s into want-to’s have a way of becoming teachable moments.
As parents, we are charged by God to “raise our children up in the ways of the Lord so that, when they grow old, He will not depart from them.” (Proverbs 22:6). That’s the signature verse for my book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting. That verse challenges us to love, honor, respect, guide, teach, and be there for our children in all circumstances. It also challenges us to set healthy boundaries, confront, restrict, and, yes, even say “no” at times to our children’s requests. Saying “no” is a vital part of healthy, Christian parenting.
“But Mommy, why not? Huh? Why not? You said ‘yes’ the last time. Mommy, pleeeease!” Eight year old Amy was not going to give up her request that her mom accept being her 3rd grade classroom mom. Denise had hesitated in answering her daughter just long enough for Amy to hope her no could be turned into a yes. Reminding her mom that she was her 2nd grade classroom mom last year was Amy’s effort to play the guilt card.
“Sweetheart, it’s time for another mom to step up. I’ve got too many things to do as it is. I can’t add something else to that list.” Amy stuck her lower lip out and pouted, adding, “You don’t love me anymore.”
Denise could have given in or fussed at her daughter for accusing her of not loving her. Instead, she saw Amy’s emotional fever rise and active listened her hurting daughter. “Aw, baby. I know you’re disappointed.” She gathered Amy into her arms for a big hug. Amy pushed her mama away and stomped her feet. Denise began to feel manipulated and that angered her. “Young lady, enough. What part of “no” do you not understand?”
Had Amy persisted, a brief time-out would have been in order. In Chapter 3 of my book, I challenge that children will always test the limits. Saying “no” strategically eases your child’s anxious and fearful feelings. They need for you to be in charge. They just will never tell you that. You have needs and feelings too, and you balance yours with theirs. Saying “no” builds character and resilience, and can be another path to teachable moments.
As you continue your parenting journey, how do you want that to go? Will it be trial and error? Just repeat how you were parented? Leave it up to somebody else? My preference is for you to fill every moment of your parenting journey, every interaction with your child, with grace.
“Billy, you careless blankity-blank, spilling your glass of milk again! Go get me that hickory stick. You need a whuppin’” Not much grace there. Billy was careless, but not likely on purpose. Accidents happen. Where’s the grace?
“Cassandra, again? What’s with you and milk? Can we get through one meal without you spilling something? Here, let me clean it up.” Not much grace there either. Shaming is just internal punishment.
“Maggie, come on. Don’t just look at the mess. Go get paper towels and help my clean it up. What am I gonna do with you, girl?” Now that’s grace in action.
Grace is a quality of calm understanding, a safe haven for your children in their storms of life. It involves gentle guidance and meaningful direction. It involves strategic firmness and clear understanding of choices, providing reward for good choices and consequence for bad choices. It results in a very meaningful teachable moment.
Billy’s dad showed anger, power, and control, not grace. Cassandra’s mom showed exasperation, burden, and frustration. Maggie’s mom was purposeful but calm. She involved her daughter in the clean-up, demonstrating meaningful consequences to Maggie’s actions. After the mess was cleaned up and dinner completed, she likely sat Maggie down to go over what had happened, active listen her feelings, and prompt her daughter to identify ways to be more careful in the future. The responses from Billy’s dad and Cassandra’s mom were about them and their feelings. The response from Maggie’s mom was about Maggie, getting the mess cleaned up, and making a teachable moment for her daughter. This is the heart of grace-filled parenting.
Every parent wants their children to get a good night’s rest. Our sleeping time is when our body’s immune system is most efficient. It’s when our body’s physically grow and heal from injury. Sleep is the best form of stress management. But, for moms and dads, as you are putting your children to bed, there’s an art to the process.
Five year old Mandy wants to stay up as late as her 10 year old sister, with whom she shares a bedroom. Daddy cuddles her as she tearfully protests going to bed before sissy. He active listens her feelings and she calms. He asks, “Can I share some things with you that I know because I’m so smart and you don’t because you’re just a squirt?” Mandy giggles and agrees to hear him out.
Dismissing your child’s protest, yelling at her, and demanding in bed, lights out, no talking, is the worst way to put a child to bed. Their adrenaline spikes, stress levels elevate, fear sets in, and the absolute last thing they can do is fall asleep. They will eventually fatigue and their eyes will close, but this is not a restful sleep.
Studies show that newborns will sleep upwards from 15 hours/day. Toddlers up to age 5 need at least 12 hours for growth and calm mood. School-age children benefit most from at least 10 hours of sleep a night. Teens and adults are recommended to have at least 8 hours/night. The average sleep time nationally for teens and adults, however is 7 hours, 28 minutes. So, as a whole, we are sleep deprived.
To give your child the best bedtime routine, focus on routine and look for teachable moments. Usually, a rule of thumb is allowing 30 minutes of calming activity before lights out. Calming activity includes, depending on age, rocking, bedtime stories, singing lullabyes, and talking about day’s events. These are all teachable moments and emotional bonding time. Multiple requests for more drink, multiple bathroom breaks, forgetting to brush teeth, one more, pleaaase requests are all excuses and stalls, which need to be firmly shut down. Consistent routines and creative, personalized rituals make for pleasant childhood memories and sweet dreams.