The Parent Transition Back to School

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In my morning times with the Lord, I’m reading the book of Matthew. Chunk by chunk, paragraph by paragraph. After I read, I journal about what that day’s passage tells me about Jesus.

Lest you be under any illusions about my profound journaling, some days my journal entries are short and simple. One day last week, I wrote two words: “Jesus heals.”

Whether my reflections are long or short, this thorough process helps immerse me in the actions and words of Jesus. In the midst of my tendency to rush from my Bible reading to a full day, writing my insights helps them stick.

A few days ago, I was struck by how Jesus praises the faith of the centurion: “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith” (Matthew 8:10). That affirmation stands in stark contrast to the condemnatory greeting Jesus gives His disciples when they wake him in the middle of a furious storm: “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” (Matthew 8:26).

Why did Jesus praise the centurion and condemn the disciples?

After all, the disciples respected Jesus’ power enough to beg him to save them.

And the disciples were experienced fishermen, so this must have been a major storm.

So what did the disciples do wrong?

They were afraid. They panicked. Like the centurion, they knew that Jesus could deliver them, but they weren’t sure he would. So they were still full of fear.

My kids’ back-to-school season kindles new fears in me as a parent.

After the more relaxing pace of summer, I worry about the influx of school stress—ranging from trying to get out the door in the morning to navigating hours of evening homework.

I worry that my kids won’t get the teachers they want. Or that I want for them.

I am afraid that my more introverted child will withdraw into books.

I am afraid that my more extroverted child won’t hit the books enough.

I so want to have the type of faith that Jesus applauds. And I think a gospel-infused response to fear is more than repeatedly telling (or more accurately, berating) myself, “Don’t be afraid, Kara. Trust Jesus.” There has to be a healthy middle ground between denial and despair.

What can we do when we face back-to-school anxieties and fears?

1. Pay attention to them.

Don’t deny them or dwell on them, but acknowledge the fears you have as your family plunges back into the world of school lunches and rushed carpools.

2. See if you can figure out what’s underneath that fear.

What is behind the fear you have about your child, or your family’s schedule? Is it your own feelings of inadequacy, or your own struggles with loneliness?

3. Talk to others about what you’re fearing.

I often forget that I’m not alone in these fears. Most of my friends have their own fears, and even if they aren’t identical to mine, they generally stem from the same roots of shame or inadequacy. Knowing that brings me comfort.

4. Talk with Jesus about them.

Talking with a friend helps. Talking with Jesus helps more. Fears get smaller when I talk with Jesus about them.

5. Talk with Jesus with your kids.

When any of my kids share their concerns about their teacher, homework, or friendships, I try to talk to Jesus aloud right then and there. We pray that God would guide them to the right friends at lunch. We ask God to put them in the classes where they can best be salt and light.

What else do you do to faithfully handle your back-to-school worries and fears, and help your kids do the same?

5 Ways to Motivate Boys

It’s not hard to find people talking about the challenge of motivating children, especially boys. It’s also not hard to find articles and opinions that decry parenting, education, social media, gaming, women’s rights, and a host of other factors. One expert in education quipped that, given current trends, 2068 will be the last year a U.S. male will graduate from college.

In his book, Boys Adrift, Psychologist Dr. Leonard Sax writes that “A third of men ages 22-34 are still living at home with their parents—about a 100 percent increase in the past 20 years.” They’re at home playing video games, Sax writes. These “grown” boys are motivated by the imaginary challenges of online gaming, but they have grown indifferent to the real world. The problems seem to be obvious, but what about the solutions? What can dads do to get boys back on track? Here are 5 ideas for motivating boys.

1. Treat boys like boys.

“Girl behavior is the gold standard in schools,” observed Psychologist Michael Thompson. “Boys are treated like defective girls.” We’ve got to stop playing it that way. Boys have unique strengths. Why not play to those strengths rather than constantly try to make boys into something they’re not?

2. Bring back recess.

Recess is being pulled out of schools. We can’t change that. However, you can have recess with your son after school. If your son doesn’t want to play competitive sports after school, take up a physical hobby together – fish, run, throw a football/baseball, lift weights, play golf, etc. More than one researcher points out the foundational biological need that boys have to express themselves physically, to engage in play, and to periodically disengage from the structured learning environment. “Although boys are more active, only a small percentage engages in 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day,” said Lorraine Robbins, assistant professor of nursing at Michigan State University.

3. Make sure they’re thirsty.

Someone who is never thirsty is never motivated to look for water. So, we need to dismantle the “entitlement” economy so many parents have established and make sure your child is required to earn access to what he wants by accomplishing real goals. “Learned helplessness” has to be taught. Set deadlines. Impose structure. A Dad’s job is that of coach, not quarterback.

4. Encourage.

Encouragement is the key to motivation. Take the training wheels off, give the bike a helpful shove, even run alongside if necessary. Let go, but hang around to encourage. This means compliment real achievement, teach problem-solving skills, and then step back. Allow kids to achieve something worthwhile so your compliments actually mean something.

5. Take the goodies out of his room.

James Lehman, MSW, contends that boys should be required to venture out of their rooms and engage in life. No computer in the bedroom, no television, no video-gaming system, and certainly no smartphone if he’s not performing. He’s a boy, so he needs to be hunting and gathering in every aspect of his life.

How Social Media is Molding Your Child

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I’m a 90’s kid. That means I have fond memories of gathering around the TV watching T.G.I.F. with my family, I could slay Bop-It like my life depended on it, and I owned several “Now That’s What I Call Music….” er,r I mean, “WOW Hits.” It also means I lived in the era when the Internet boomed in the homes of everyday people.

I remember the first time I was granted access to the internet in my own home. I had heard the rumors of this mystical land that lived inside Internet Explorer. It was the world where you could ask a butler named Jeeves any question, where the evilest thing you could find was pop-up ads, and receive the rush of chemicals to your head as you typed your heart out in AOL Instant Messaging (AIM).

This was my version of Social Media. Two hours a day, with only a handful of friends who also had internet access, and an insufficient number of web pages. It was an experience.

This is not your child’s version of social media.

Your child’s social media isn’t an experience. It’s a lifestyle.

With the development of the cell phone and the plethora of other internet connected devices, social media has become so integral in the lives our children (and us) that it’s reshaping the culture of childhood.

Let’s get one thing straight: Your children are not growing up like you or me.

Now, before you channel Ron Swanson and run to your child’s room to destroy every piece of technology they own, we have to understand HOW social media is shaping them.


Social Media is shaping the way your children are reacting, responding, and reminiscing. They not only see the way you handle circumstances, they have access to entirely different worldviews and experiences. They are arriving at their conclusions on how the world operates by more than just your voice.


Social media is a measure of their worth. How many likes did they receive on that Instagram post? Did they get over 200 views on their Snapchat story? How many retweets did they get? Their validation is now a numerical number instead of the truth of who God has made them to be.


Social media is THE place where they connect with others. Forget about grabbing someone’s digits, what’s their handle? This is where they meet strangers and friends. This is the environment where they experience bullying, criticize others, and/or affirm each other.

This is also the place where they gather news and get passionate about causes they believe in. It’s also the place where they will find romantic partners.

This is the world we live in now.

I know as a parent this can feel a little overwhelming. What are you supposed to do? You can’t stop the way the world is evolving with technology. The only real thing that YOU can do as a parent is to set the example. Show your children what a healthy balance of consumption looks like. When your kids remember their childhood make sure they remember your face not the back of your phone. Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, Ed.D., advises, “ Don’t walk in the door after work, say ‘hi’ quickly, and then ‘just check your email.’ In the morning, get up a half hour earlier than your kids and check your email then. Give them your full attention until they’re out the door. And neither of you should be using phones in the car to or from school because that’s an important time to talk.”


  1. If your child is on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., be their friend and monitor their activity.
  2. Establish “no tech zones.” Make sure everyone (EVEN YOU) understands the rule and has no technology around the No Tech Zone.
  3. Find other interests other than the digital world. Do they like sports? Get them on a team. Do they like music? Get lessons going.
  4. Schedule times of adventure that require everyone to unplug. Go on hikes, canoe the lake, run the trail.
  5. Gather as a family and read the promises of who God created us to be. Teach where real value comes from with verses like Isaiah 40:31, Isaiah 41:10, Deuteronomy 3:18, John 8:36, Psalm 34:17.

Navigating parenting in our world is like the wild west. We don’t have all the perfect answers and how-to’s, and that’s ok. When your child puts up a fight with these rules, because they will, rest in the knowledge that you’re preparing them for success in their future.  Your children are regularly receiving both affirmation and criticism from the outside world, be intentional on affirming and loving your children in a more personal and meaningful way on a daily basis. Hug them. Love them. Listen to them.

How To Avoid Raising Co-Dependent Kids

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Shielding kids from consequences can have long-term consequences for parents. Take, for instance, my friend’s brother Bill. It started small when Bill was in first grade. Mom would do his chores so Bill wouldn’t get in trouble with Dad. Quickly, it moved to homework cover-ups and graduated to Mom covering when he skipped school; Dad lying to the police when he wrecked a car he didn’t have permission to drive, and increasingly large financial defaults. By the time Mom and Dad let Bill move back home after failing college (no questions asked), he felt entitled to every bailout that came his way. The bailouts just kept getting bigger, including $50,000 in a failed real estate venture.

We’re all concerned about keeping our kids safe and happy. But we raise our children to fly, not flop around the nest as the product of enabling parents. One day, we’re going to have to let go and, when we do, it’s a good idea to make sure they’re equipped and ready. If you want to avoid raising codependent kids, follow these 5 things early and often.

1. Expect more of them:

We all tend to rise to the level of expectation. A two-year-old can learn to pick up toys. A three-year-old can help to set the table. A four-year-old can take dirty clothes to the laundry room and learn how to operate the machine. The more, and the earlier, we train children to contribute, the more self-reliance will become a part of their DNA.

2. Allow (managed) natural consequences:

Typically, there is no better learning tool than to experience the consequence of behavior. A five-year-old refuses to clean up the toys in the middle of the floor? The toys visit the attic for a prescribed amount of time. A ten-year-old curses? Get a dictionary, then handwrite five acceptable words that mean the same thing, plus their complete definitions. Establish a direct line between behavior and a real world result.

3. Be consistent:

Mom and Dad need to be on the same page because learning thrives where children know what to expect. When children understand that what they do or do not do makes a consistent and measurable difference in the quality of their life, they will become more likely to accept responsibility for themselves and work to impact the outcome more favorably.

4. Be clear:

Leave no doubt as to the outcome when encouraging children to accept responsibility. Then having made ourselves clear, we need to follow through. This is why it’s important not to threaten beyond our willingness to enforce. If we say, for example, “If you do that again, I will take away your phone for a month,” but then only take it away for one day, we have created a problem.

5. Trust them:

Having made ourselves clear, we must demonstrate trust by getting out of the way. We can’t expect a child to grow if we treat them as if they are incapable of doing what we ask. When they succeed, we congratulate. If they fail, we follow through on consequences because we believe they could have done better.

How to Have Deeper Conversations With Kids

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How to Have Deeper Conversations With Kids

Recently, I had some downtime in my work day and I walked by my son’s room to find him leaning on the steps of his bunk bed staring and doing nothing (I work from home and he is homeschooled). So I walked into his room and rested next to his bean bag chair. He immediately came off the steps and sat next to me. I asked him, “What’s on your mind?” What followed was a deeper conversation than I anticipated. It started light with basic topics covered — his sister’s 16th birthday party, my brother and his family who had recently visited from out of state, and some of the superhero movies we had recently watched.

Then we found ourselves talking about school concerns, to problems he and his siblings had been having, and more. As we talked I realized how important these one-on-one talks are. I need to be intentional in fostering these types of conversations regularly. Now I have scheduled times for each child to have alone time with me. It’s my way of making these types of conversations happen. Here are 4 ways to have deeper conversations with kids.

Get on their level

Our 6-year-old is the youngest and shortest in the house. One time I got on my knees and walked around a little bit. It was a completely different perspective, and that is his view all the time. He looks up to everything, making it seem like everybody is looking down on him. So, I often squat or sit down when I speak to him. It enables me to get face-to-face, to look him eye-to-eye and gets me on his level. When I do, he knows he has my attention and the conversations flow. Try getting on your kids level, physically, when talking to them.

Get comfortable in their space

As I reflect on the conversation I mentioned in our son’s bedroom I’m realizing some of our best and deepest conversations happen there. When I sit or lay down in his room, It’s like I’m in his area, where he’s most comfortable, and he opens up. The same happens with our other two kids as well. They sleep, hang out, and just spend time in their rooms. They are very comfortable there and it’s private. They can just relax, open up, and be themselves.

We have talks at the kitchen table, but that’s not just their space. Deep conversations have happened there, but I think the deepest conversations we’ve had happened when I got comfortable in their own space. I believe the same will happen with you.

Never stop talking

Small talk, deep conversations, talks about goals, about school, sports, whatever, never stop talking to them. Even when they aren’t as talkative. Keep the lines of communication open, and have as much conversation with your kids as you possibly can. The more quantity conversation you have will open the door for more quality conversations. When the communication dies in any relationship, the relationship will soon follow. Never stop talking to your kids.

Never stop listening

Make sure you are listening, intently. I’m guilty of forming an opinion before they are done speaking. Or going into problem-solving mode when they just want to express themselves to me. Your kids aren’t always looking for an answer, sometimes just an ear.  Listening to your kids will keep open the door to deeper conversations.

As dads, we want to have meaningful influence with our kids. If we have a surface-level relationship built on surface-level conversations, then our influence will be limited. Practice what I’ve mentioned above and you’ll be able to go deep with your kids.

Helping Children Deal with Death

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With any loss a child suffers, you may be called on to help that child deal with death.

*During the night, a fire breaks out in a home. The parents manage to carry out two of their three children. When the blaze is extinguished, the body of their 2-year-old daughter is found. The parents and their surviving 5- and 8-year-old children are devastated. “We lost our baby today,” the father cries to reporters.

*In a quiet neighborhood, a car strikes a boy on his bicycle. The child was only 12 years old. Along with his parents, survivors include a 6-year-old brother.

*An 11-year-old girl is fatally shot, the victim of gang violence. Her parents and two siblings are left in shock wondering how this could happen to them.

These are not fabricated events. They took place in one community during the last few months. At some point, all children are forced to cope with death. Whether death strikes a family member or friend, whether the death takes place when the child is in preschool or high school, death’s impact can last a lifetime. Like adults, children need to know the biblical truth: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Here are ways to minister to grieving children.

*Identify each child’s level of understanding. The amount of information, degree of detail, and the language used concerning a death should vary with the developmental stage of each child. Children under 2 have very little understanding of death. Between 2 and 6, children display magical thinking. For them death is reversible. They’ll ask when the dead person is coming home again. From ages 6 through 9, children comprehend the finality of death but will often regress to magical thinking. Children over 9 acquire a more mature understanding of death and realize it’s irreversible.

*Use simple, concrete language. Younger children view their world literally, as in the case of a 6-year-old whose grandfather died. “Everybody’s been talking about granddad’s body being at the funeral home,” the boy said. “I thought that when you died, they must cut off your head.” Use only basic and simple concepts to explain death.

*Avoid euphemisms. Metaphors and euphemisms confuse children. A child who is told, “Grandmother is sleeping” will be afraid to fall asleep and never awaken. Or a child who hears, “We lost daddy today” can waste great emotional energy hoping her father will someday be found.

*Stop, look, and listen. After a death, give a grieving child undivided attention when feelings connected to bereavement emerge. Let a child express sadness, anger, or guilt. Grief forced underground can emerge months or years later to haunt and hurt the child. “The child’s feelings and concerns should take precedence over almost everything else,” advises child therapist Claudia Jarratt in her book Helping Children Cope With Separation and Loss. “As soon as the child tries to share feelings, stop what you are doing immediately (or as soon as you can) and focus on the child.”

*Give ample reassurance. Children’s grief is colored by fear. They fear abandonment. They fear that they too will die. They fear they may have caused the death. When a parent has died, they fear the other parent will die also. Children need constant, loving reassurance that the surviving family will remain intact.

*Be a role model. Death and grief give you a unique opportunity to be a role model for children. Be emotionally genuine about your grief. “It is almost impossible to put up a false front successfully,” says psychologist Julius Segal. “Kids can discern when we are bereft even though we try mightily to hide it. Words cannot mask what lies in the heart; and when the two are dissonant, the mixed signals can increase the mystery and fears surrounding death.”

*Emphasize God’s love. Faith can be a great source of comfort to a child. Unfortunately, adults often misstate God’s role in a death and thereby confuse, rather than comfort, a child. For example, Helen Fitzgerald, a counselor and author of The Grieving Child, notes the confusion surrounding the phrase, “It’s all part of God’s plan.” “What plan?” Fitzgerald asks. “Is it part of God’s plan to have a mother killed by a plane dropping on top of her car (this actually happened)? Most parents want to teach children that God is a loving God, not a God that allows airplanes to fall on cars.”

Rather than speaking about God’s will and plan with a child, emphasize God’s love. Love is a concept that appeals to even the youngest child. Children can be reminded gently, “God loves us and wants to help us. We can bring all of our fears and concerns to God in prayer. God will help us.” By responding sensitively to children, you’ll ensure they develop the coping skills they need to understand, manage, and respond to loss. Take time to help children cope with death, and make it possible for them to have a healthy bereavement.


Here are simple, concrete ways to explain a death to a child:

*Suicide-“Sometimes people feel very sad. They’re so unhappy they don’t want to live anymore, so they kill themselves. But killing yourself is never a good thing to do if you’re feeling bad.”

*Accident-“Something awful happened. Two cars struck each other and John died. His body was hurt so badly it stopped working.”

*Terminal illness-“Some people who get sick just don’t get better. Instead they get sicker and sicker until their bodies get worn out and stop working.”

*Old age-“After people have lived a very long time and get old, their bodies wear out and stop working.”

*Miscarriage or stillbirth-“Sometimes, but not very often, when a baby is growing inside its mother, something goes wrong. The baby stops growing and dies. We don’t always understand why it happens, but it does. It’s not anyone’s fault.”

*Murder-“Sometimes things happen in life — terrible things that we can’t stop. Today a person whose mind was not working right killed Carrie. That is the worst thing a person can do. It is wrong and can make us very angry.”

8 Warning Signs Your Child is Headed for Trouble

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When I look back at childhood, I think about my decisions when I came into my adolescence. The early years were perfectly happy and normal, but the later years led me to places that make me cringe when I think back on it. I can pinpoint the triggers that caused the good and bad choices. But a 10-year-old boy has no ability to understand what is happening in the moment.

As parents, it is an important duty to monitor our child and their activities. This allows us to decipher what paths they are headed down. When you just focus on punishment and not the root of the issue, there is a good chance he or she could become a problem child. Here are some of the common signs of a child heading the wrong direction. It is important to recognize these and take the appropriate steps to guide your child back down a positive path.

1. Mood Swings

Everyone experiences the occasional change in moods. Teenagers with exploding hormones, in particular, are prone to ups and downs. The key here is to determine if the lows and highs are too excessive, or if your child quickly shifts from euphoria to depression seemingly without cause. Be empathetic and a source of stability. Be calm. Adding to the drama will only make things worse. Finally, try to get your child to communicate what he is truly feeling in the moment.

2. Withdrawal

Not every child is a social butterfly, but that doesn’t mean there is a problem. However, if you see signs of withdrawal it could be cause for concern. Watch for signs of depression, lack of confidence, and if he feels rejected by other children.

3. Hiding Things

When you find out they have been hiding something, even if it’s trivial, it should tell you that they have entered into suspect behavior. At the very least they are creating habits of secrecy. It either says they are fine with bad behavior or they don’t trust you. Each of those is dangerous.

4. Dropping Grades

If a child is getting lower than normal grades, something is wrong somewhere. It could be a learning disability, laziness, need for more instruction, or any number of social or domestic issues. It could also be a sign of depression or discontentment. Get to the core of the matter instead of just punishing.

5. Sudden Change of Friends

Making new friends is a good thing. A red flag is when they stop spending time with one friend group and start hanging out with a totally new group of people. It’s important to find out what they are drawn to with the new group and what the breakdown was with their former friends. Relationships have a complexity and kids need their parents help in navigating them. Breakdowns in friendships hurt. Wounded hearts often gravitate to unhealthy coping mechanisms to numb or distract from the pain.

6. Fluctuating Weight

Sudden weight loss and gain are normally associated with an unhealthy desire to control. Being a child can feel turbulent and unstable. As a way to deal with the stress, eating disorders or mass consumption can emerge. With these dysfunctional coping strategies, food can easily be replaced by drugs and alcohol or cutting as a way to control feelings of fear, anxiety, and insecurity.

7. Personality Changes

Puberty is bound to bring some personality changes, but keep an eye on it. When a generally upbeat kid becomes more pessimistic or an outgoing kid becomes quieter, there is something driving the negative change. Perhaps they are doing things they know you wouldn’t approve of or they are being bullied at school. Maybe they are desperate for approval they aren’t getting. Ask them questions such as, “Do you feel like your world is changing a bit? How do you feel about that?” You may also try, “You know when I was your age I had a hard time. How are you coping with the changes going on around you?”

8. Changing The Way They Dress

It’s fine to experiment with new looks. After all, kids don’t develop a full sense of identity until their mid-twenties. However, a sudden change in dress and image could be more than experimenting. It may be a deep sign of insecurity. Starting to wear more revealing clothing tends to be a step towards sexual activity, while baggy/over covering can be a sign they are hiding something. For example, when a kid always wears long sleeves, even when it is warm, they are usually hiding scars from self-cutting. As it has been said before, get to the heart of the issues. Ask questions and be a safe place for your kids as they try to navigate life.

Self-Esteem is Ruining Your Kids

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As a child of the 70’s I grew up 80’s where baby boomers were loving life, loving love and loving themselves. This translated to every area of life including their parenting. The seeds of self-esteem were laid by my parent’s generation and have taken full root in my generation. It’s this idea that kids need to have a positive outlook in life, they need to love themselves. While in limited ways this can be true the pervasiveness of this idea is killing the collective conscience of our country and is ruining our kids.

My parents were not primary concerned with my self-esteem for that I am thankful. I remember my mom saying something to me when I was younger that always stuck with me. She said that her and my father were not concerned with how our peers felt about us they would always watch how adults interacted with us and would listen for the assessments adults had of us. Why? Because my parents were more concerned with our self-awareness than our self-esteem.

How kids interact with adults is a great (not perfect) indicator of how self-aware your kids are. So many parents today are concerned with their kids having friends, their kids having the right kids of friends, their kids not getting their feelings hurt by their friends because they want their kids to have good self-esteem because they love their kids. They are doing their kids a disservice. Parents today take their child side over the word of another adult because they don’t want to crush their kids. In doing this they are eroding the very things that will make kids successful in life. I am all for good self-esteem and smarts in school but what makes you successful in life is self-awareness. And here is the truth that parents so often totally miss that when you raise a kid who is self-aware you get self-esteem thrown in, but if you try to raise a kid with your primary goal being good self-esteem you get neither.

3 Reasons why self-awareness should matter to you as a parent.

1. Self-awareness produces confidence in your kids and confidence produces self-esteem.

2. Self-awareness makes your kids other focused because you are confident and understand their strengths and limitations it allows them to flourish and not have to pretend, lie, cheat or steal to be something they wish they were and not who they really are.

3. Self-awareness allows your kids to see themselves as the desperate sinners they are. When you are aware of who you are in Christ you have a desperate confidence. You understand that you are a desperate sinner but have a confidence in a sinless savior. The cross is not a boost to your self esteem it doesn’t feel good to talk about the cross. Kids whose awareness is understood in light of their shortcomings and Christ’s sufficiency, glory in the Cross.  Kids who have learned to nurture their self-esteem run from the cross those who are self-aware run to it.