The Importance of Letting Go

** The following article was copied from theparentcue.org.

I’m writing this while sitting on a flight with my thirteen-year-old son on our way home from Uganda. Yep . . . Uganda! It’s actually an interesting story how it all happened. I had an opportunity to join a mission trip to Uganda to pilot if for our ministry. The trip was one designed for fathers and their children, and they asked if my son would join us. Right away I knew the answer for sure. Let me ask his mom.

Her initial answer was predictable. It was simply . . . “I hate you.”

Now, before you judge the quality of my marriage . . . well, just stop. I love my wife’s answer. In a way, it sums up what most of us parents feel when we are faced with an option like that for our children.

Loosely translated, “I hate you” means, “I want this for my child, but I’m scared.”

I gave her a couple of weeks to think about it, and then I brought it up again.

Her response was one of the most profound parenting insights I’ve ever heard. (Did I mention how much I love my brilliant wife?)

She said, “I don’t want my thirteen-year-old to go to Uganda. But, I want a seventeen-year-old who went to Uganda when he was thirteen.”

Drop the parenting mic!

As I think about our trip I am amazed what he experienced as a thirteen-year-old. Someday he will be a seventeen-year-old who has already . . .

worked with and learned from great Ugandan men who are working hard to combat the lack of male role models in that culture.

made friends with another Mac from across the world and had to say goodbye. . . probably for this lifetime.

bartered with some tough Ugandan ladies at the city market.

played with Muhammed, #2 Muhammed (a name he gave himself), and Osama and enjoyed it.

sat with a widowed mother of twelve in her shed and told her she was “Brave.” (She really liked that.)

walked into an orphanage and brought joy to some amazing children who needed a little more joy.

felt deeply, the privilege and the blessing of being born in the United States of America.

Here’s my point:

As parents raising Christian children we must, at some point (probably middle school), decide that we are going to begin to move from protecting our children to preparing them for this world. The older they get, the more you have to let go,  giving them experiences where they can lead, serve, and learn how to do things on their own.

The reality is you don’t even need to take a missions trip, though I would highly recommend it. There are plenty of ways to change gears and plug them into new experiences. What is something you can do this summer to push your kids out of the nest just a little, to help them experience something new or become more responsible, even if it makes you feel a little uncomfortable at first? What do you want your kid to have already experienced when they are seventeen?

Switch One Word and Change Your Family Dynamics

** The following article was copied from theparentcue.org.

Growing up, I always knew I wanted a family of my own—the wife, the kids, the whole bit. In college, I remember having “deep” conversations with friends about how I was going to do family right. I remember thinking, I’m going to be a great husband and dad. 

Then I became a husband. I instantly found out that I wasn’t all that I had dreamed I would be. While I had my good moments, too often I had bad moments. I was much more selfish than I knew. I was confused on a regular basis. What did I say wrong? What did I do wrong?

Before we had kids I thought, Well, I may not be a perfect husband, but I’m going to knock this dad thing out of the park. Three nights in and I was pretending not to hear the baby crying in the middle of the night.

Now that I have been married for 22 years and have three teenagers, I’m not really sure about anything. Add to that all the pressure of really wanting to be a good husband and dad and I can quickly feel overwhelmed. But I have realized that a lot of the pressure I feel to be a good husband and dad doesn’t have anything to do with my wife and kids.

Let me see if I can explain, then tell me if you have ever been there. Often, I don’t want things for my wife and kids as much as I want things from my wife and kids. And there is a huge difference.

Let’s start with how we want things from our family. If our goal is to be a good spouse, then the only one who can give us The Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval is our spouse. So, if we do chores around the house in order to get a “that a boy/girl” from our spouse, we are probably going to be disappointed and frustrated with our spouse. Likewise, if we parent teenagers expecting respect and appreciation from them, then we are . .  . what’s the word . . . idiots?

Now, let’s flip it. If we do chores around the house because we want something for our spouse, that’s different. We’re not doing it because we want to feel validated; we’re doing it because we want something FOR them. We want them to feel love through an act of service, to be less stressed during a busy week, to feel like they are not alone in all there is to do.

Do we want our kids to be respectful and our spouse to be grateful?  Absolutely. But what if the better way to get those things is by switching from to for? I think our home and family may be a much more peaceful place for us all to live. Why? I think it has something to do with humility, selflessness, and peace. So, let’s give this a test.

Run your latest family conflict through the grid of this question: During this conflict, was I frustrated because I wanted something from them or for them? Then tell me what happens. I’m still figuring this whole thing out. I don’t have this one mastered for sure. But as I’ve played around it for the last few months, and it works. Try it, and please let us know how it works for you.

How to Have Deeper Conversations With Kids

** The following article was copied from www.allprodad.com.

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.

3 Seasons of Being a Teenager

We’re excited to offer a few short online “parenting classes” for you.  Check out the short video and materials below.

 

Helping Children Deal with Death

** This article was copied from childrensministry.com.

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.

WHAT TO SAY

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

** The following article was copied from www.allprodad.com

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

** The following article was copied from samluce.com

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.

An Escape Plan for Teens

** The following article was copied from theparentcue.org

What would your kid do if, while at a friend’s house, someone offered them a beer? What would your kid do if a friend started playing an inappropriate YouTube video and expected them to watch, too?

We all want our kids to make good decisions in the face of peer pressure. But for a 13-year-old or 17-year-old just trying to fit in, making good decisions can be a daily challenge.

As a small group leader for the past ten years, I’ve had the opportunity to walk with dozens of middle school and high school students as they navigate potentially compromising situations. Underage drinking, cheating on tests, watching inappropriate movies, pushing boundaries with a girlfriend . . . students are consistently facing peer pressure that can lead to poor decisions.

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned working with students, it’s that they need a plan—an escape plan. They need to know how to escape those pressure-filled moments. Because the truth is, most teens don’t wantto cave into peer pressure, they just don’t know how not to.

This is where you—the parent—come in. As a parent, you have the opportunity to work with your teenager to create an escape plan—a plan to help them avoid those poor decisions. Here’s what that escape plan might include . . .

For escaping the big situations—like a party that’s gotten out of hand or an inappropriate movie that just started playing—there’s the X-plan. If you’re not familiar with it, the X-plan encourages kids to text “X” to a parent if they find themselves in a compromising situation. When a parent gets that text, they know their kid needs to be picked up immediately. (Read more about the X-plan here.)

But what about escaping the spur-of-the-moment situations when there’s no time to send an emergency text? Like if a friend offers your kid a beer, asks them to help cheat on a test, or asks them to watch an inappropriate music video? A student only has a few seconds to respond in these situations.

For these moments, preparing a few “escape phrases” that a student can use in a pinch can be instrumental. And you can brainstorm with your kid what those escape phrases could be.

If your kid is still growing in their faith, convictions, and decision-making, the goal might be simply getting out of a tough situation. If a friend offers a cigarette, the escape phrase might be, “No thanks. My parents would be able to smell it on me and I’d never get away with it.” Or if a student is trying to get out of cheating, the escape phrase might be, “Sorry, if I get caught cheating even once I’m off the soccer team, and I can’t let my team down.”

If your kid is maturing in his or her faith, though, it may be time for them to more closely stand by their convictions and beliefs. If someone asks them to watch an inappropriate YouTube video, maybe their escape phrase is, “Sorry, I really try to avoid watching this kind of stuff. I just don’t see any upside to it. Can we watch something else?” Or if someone offers a beer, maybe their escape phrase is, “No thanks. I really don’t think it’s wise to drink alcohol in high school. I’m going to stick to soda tonight.”

Your teenager will be far more likely to resist peer pressure in a difficult situation if they’re prepared. And you have the chance to discuss with your teen what that escape plan looks like.

It may be tempting to assume that these ideas only apply to teens that are running with “the wrong crowd.” But the truth is, all students run into these situations every now and then. And it only takes one poor decision to send a kid down a destructive path.

Preparing an escape plan with your teenager probably won’t be easy. It’ll require time and effort on your part to get your kid to open up and have a conversation about this. And they’ll probably never come home and say, “Mom, I used one of the phrases in our escape plan and it worked!” But there will be situations that make your kid uncomfortable, and these phrases will come to mind. And it will have been worth it.