Archive for October 30, 2017

Raising Respectful Children (A Self-Examination)

Raising respectful children is a goal for every parent. We begin to teach them to respect by demanding they respect us or forcing them to show respect to others. But, I have to wonder. Is that really the best way to start teaching respect?  Do children learn to respect when we demand they respect us? When we force them to respect others in their speech and actions?  I do believe it important that our children respect us and respect others. But, that may not be the best place to start teaching them respect. In fact, children learn more from watching us than from following our demands. They learn more from how we treat them than they learn from how we tell them to treat others. They watch us closely and model our behavior. They learn how to treat others by experiencing how we treat them. When we treat our children with respect, they are much more likely to treat us and others with respect. So, to teach our children respectful behavior, the best place to begin is by treating our children with respect. Unfortunately, I fear we often neglect to respect our children. Disrespect creeps into our interactions through impatience, preoccupation, or fear of failure.  Think about these ways of respecting our children and do a little self-examination.  Consider each bullet and think about how well you respect your children in the way stated.

  • Respect your children’s competence enough to let your children do tasks around the house.
  • Respect your children’s ability to problem-solve and discover creative solutions rather than jumping in to solve every problem they encounter.
  • Respect your children’s age appropriate independence. Let them complete age appropriate tasks alone.
  • Respect your children by establishing and enforcing clear limits. Make these limits firm, but enforce them politely and respectfully rather than harshly.
  • Respect your children’s willingness to cooperate and accept their help…with a smile and a “thank you.”
  • Respect your children enough to state directly what you desire rather than trying to manipulate them with false choices and questions.
  • Respect your children’s need for predictability by establishing daily routines.
  • Respect your children’s ability to learn by not rescuing them. Let them experience the consequences of their own behaviors, both positive and negative.
  • Respect your children’s dignity by never calling them demeaning names or making comments that degrade them directly or indirectly.
  • Respect your children’s uniqueness by nurturing their individual talents and interests. Be excited about their progress and their interests.
  • Respect your children’s ideas and opinions enough to listen, even when they disagree with you. Respect their ideas enough to let them influence your decisions and actions.
  • Respect your children’s intelligence by letting them answer questions asked of them. You don’t need to answer for them or volunteer them for some activity. Respect allows them to answer for themselves.
  • Respect your children’s feelings by allowing them to express a full range of emotions and teach them to do so in an appropriate manner.
  • Respect your children enough to listen intently and fully.

Well, how did you do?  Are you respecting your children?  I’m sure we can all improve…I know I can.  Still, treating children with respect is the place we begin teaching them to respect others. Children who are respected by family become respectful. Start respecting children today and they will become more respectful tomorrow.

Research Says, “Take a Hike for Family Fun”

I enjoyed a short hike along Cedar Creek with my wife and two nieces (6- and 7-years-old). We joined the trail where the picturesque Cedar Creek flows out of the woods and into the Youghiogheny River. We hiked a short distance “up creek.”  With a 6 -year-old and a 7-year-old it was not a quiet walk. But, it was beautiful and very relaxing. We smiled and laughed. We enjoyed the trees and the “cliff.” We even saw some fish and a few caterpillars. When we returned home, I felt more relaxed, happier, even a little energized. Apparently, I’m not the only one to have this experience. A growing number of physicians prescribe park visits and hikes to their patients. Studies show that taking a hike in the woods improves mood and self-esteem, decreases tension, clears the head, and decreases anger and depression. Researchers have also found that taking a “nature walk” decreases repetitive negative thoughts about ourselves. Living in areas with high amounts of “green areas” or “natural spaces” decreases the chance of experiencing depressive symptoms by 20% and suicide attempts by 28% when compared to those who live without “green areas” or “natural spaces.”  (Read Take Two Hikes and Call Me in the Morning) In other words, a hike through “green areas” leads to a better mood, greater happiness, and a greater sense of calm. Sounds like three great goals for our families: 1) better mood, 2) greater happiness, and 3) a greater sense of calm. And, it’s not hard to work for those goals. Simply take the family to your local park and go for a walk! You’ll enjoy fresh air and good conversation. You’ll learn more about one another’s lives and grow more intimate. You’ll come back home in a better mood, happier, and calmer. That is my kind of family activity! (Learn more about hiking and happiness in Hike to a Family Fun Night.)

Improve Your Marriage with One Simple, Daily Activity

I love being married. I find more joy and happiness, adventure and excitement, joy and contentment, even fun and ecstasy with my wife than I could have ever imagined.  But, let’s face it. Marriage is not all fun and games. It’s not always easy. I also experience irritations and frustrations in my marriage that impact me more deeply than any I experience in other relationships. I’m sure my wife can say the same. (Still, I did plead perfection when telling her about this blog. She simply snickered and shook her head in response. Go figure.) Anyway, the Florida State University’s Family Institute suggests a way to increase the positive side of marriage and decrease the negative, increase the joy and excitement while limiting the frustrations and anger. And, it’s based on over 20 years of research! (Full disclosure—I only reviewed some of the studies from the last 10 years.) Based on their research, staff at the Florida State University’s Family Institute suggests an activity that any of us can engage in on a daily basis to improve our marriages. It’s simple, yet powerful; easy to do yet profound in its impact. Want to know what activity they suggest? Praying for your spouse. That’s right. Praying! Coming before God (your Higher Power) to ask that your spouse be blessed and protected. Making intercession with God for your spouse; asking Him to help your spouse achieve his or her goals. One caveat—none of these prayers in these studies asked for their partners to become the person they wanted them to be. No, they offered sincere, unselfish prayers focused on their partner’s well-being. Overall, research suggests that saying prayers for one’s partner has many positive effects. Let me share just a few from the last 10 years of research (Read more here).

  1. Praying for one’s spouse has a softening effect on conflict (Butler et al, 1998). In other words, conflict becomes less harsh for those who have a praying spouse.
  2. Praying for one’s spouse predicts relationship satisfaction beyond what positive or negative behaviors in the relationship can predict (Lambert et al, 2008).
  3. Praying for one’s spouse over a 4-week period leads to greater gratitude toward one’s spouse than did thinking positive thoughts about one’s spouse or engaging in daily activities together (Lambert et al, 2009).
  4. Praying for one’s spouse increases the willingness of the one praying to forgive and did so more than simply speaking positively about one’s partner (Lambert et al, 2010).
  5. Praying for one’s spouse predicts greater commitment to the marriage (Fincham et al, 2010).
  6. Praying for one’s spouse while praying with your spouse leads to a greater sense of trust and unity in the relationship (Lambert et al, 2012).

Increased relationship satisfaction, more gratitude, more willingness to forgive, greater commitment, greater trust and less harsh conflict…all through the simple act of sincerely and unselfishly praying for your spouse. I’m getting started now. How about you?

Why Our Kids Need Time Alone

Sue looked exhausted, frazzled, and run down when I arrived at her house. I thought she’d be more rested at home. We had hoped to go out for coffee and conversation, but she couldn’t find a sitter. So, I figured I’d go to her house and enjoy some time together. It didn’t go as I had imagined. We did not sit at the kitchen table to enjoy conversation while her son played nearby. No, her son demanded her constant attention. She was constantly on the go responding to his unending demands for a drink, a playmate, an interaction…constant entertainment. If he wasn’t making demands, he was getting into something that forced Sue to run over and stop him, redirect him, and then entertain him. We “couldn’t get two words edgewise” because Sue’s son required constant engagement. That’s when I realized the importance of giving our children a place where they can play safely without adult intervention. Giving our children a safe place play alone, without adult intervention, demands some preparation. First, you have to organize a child-proof room. But once you have established that safe area, children can play independently with nothing more than their parent’s observation. Parents can sit comfortably or engage in other activities knowing their children can play safely alone.  And, allowing our children time to play alone without adult intervention will benefit our children in many ways. Let me describe just a few of the benefits of allowing our children to play alone.

  • Playing alone, without adult intervention, sparks children’s imaginations and creativity. Observe your children as they play alone and you will witness dragons, princesses, cowboys, doctors, and monsters come to life. You will see detectives and firemen working together to capture invisible villains and put out imaginary fires. Playing without adult intervention frees our children’s creativity.
  • Playing alone, without adult intervention, gives our children the opportunity to learn problem-solving skills. When we stay out of the way, our children find their own solutions to problems that arise. They brainstorm and find ways to banish their boredom. They learn to negotiate and compromise with one another. They learn to set boundaries and assert themselves kindly. These are all lessons learned in the classroom of play when we don’t interfere with the teacher of experience.
  • Playing alone, without adult intervention, helps children become more comfortable with themselves. They may explore new activities and, in the process, develop their interests. They learn they are “OK” without constant entertainment because they can entertain themselves by exploring novel activities. As a result of these things, they become more comfortable with themselves.
  • Playing alone, without adult intervention, teaches children to manage their time. Rather than having their time managed by scheduled activities, these children learn to enjoy the quiet. They also learn how to entertain themselves.
  • Playing alone, without adult intervention, allows children to learn to soothe their own emotions. They learn emotional management skills like distraction. They learn to focus their attention on what they have rather than what they do not have. They learn to soothe themselves.

As you can see, allowing children time to play alone helps them grow. Children learn so much in the classroom of play when allowed to play alone without adult intervention. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we never need to play with our kids. Our children need time to play alone and they need time when we engage them in play.  Giving our children time to engage in unstructured, independent play without adult intervention carries many benefits we don’t want our children to miss.

The Crucial “AND-Factor” in Parenting

John behaved terribly in Junior Church. He didn’t sit still. He didn’t listen. He talked constantly. He distracted the other children. He caused conflict. Finally, at my whit’s end, I told him, “I’m going to talk to your mother about your behavior today.”  So, after dismissing the children, I cleaned up the room and headed to the sanctuary where I could talk with John’s mother. As I approached, John’s mother smiled and said, “Isn’t Johnny a good kid. He told me how bad he was in class today. He said he was sorry.  He’s such an honest, good kid.”  I was shocked that he had already told his mother. I asked, “Did you talk to him about the need to change his behavior?” “No, he told me what he had done wrong.”  “Did he apologize for misbehaving?” “No, not really. But he told me about it. He’s such a good boy.” “Will you discipline him so this behavior doesn’t continue?” “Well, I don’t think I need to do anything. Boys will be boys. And he did come to tell me what he did wrong. He’s such an honest boy.” And, with that the conversation ended. I’m sure you’re not surprised to learn his disruptive behavior did not end.  John’s mother loved her son. She had acceptance down pat but she was not great on limits. As a result, John’s behavior didn’t change. He continued to misbehave. She was missing an important factor in effective parenting: the “AND-factor.” Every effective parent practices the “AND-factor.” Let me share a just three examples to explain.

  • Effective parents practice acceptance toward their children “AND” they set firm limits for their children. They accept and acknowledge what their children want “AND” maintain a firm limit. They even accept and acknowledge their children’s disappointment in not getting what they want “AND” still hold the limit firm. The parent using the “AND-factor” makes comments like, “I know you would like a cookie right now but it will spoil your dinner so you’ll have to wait until after dinner” or “I know you’d like your driver’s license now but you came in late and drunk two times in the last month so we can’t trust you with your license.” In both instances the parent acknowledges what their child wants “AND” maintains a firm and reasonable limit.
  • Effective parents remain available “AND” do not become intrusive. They remain involved in their children’s lives “AND” encourage independence. They remain available to help resolve problems that arise, but they do not step in to fix it. They remain available “AND” they let their children work it out independently as much as possible.
  • Effective parents practice patient acceptance toward their children “AND” they remain true to which behaviors are acceptable and which are not acceptable. These parents remain calm when their children misbehave. “AND,” they firmly tell their children what behaviors they will or will not tolerate. They wait patiently for their children to get ready for appointments (like catching the school bus) “AND” they encourage timeliness, even if that means their children receive a consequence when they are late. They remain calm in the midst of misbehavior “AND” they will enforce a consequence for that misbehavior.

I’m sure you get the idea. Other examples of the “AND-factor” include…

  • Respecting your needs “AND” respecting your children’s needs.
  • Encouraging open expression of feelings, even negative feelings and disagreements “AND” expecting, even demanding, those expressions remain polite and respectful.

Effective parents practice the “AND-factor” in many areas. Sometimes it’s a struggle “AND” it always produces the best results. So start practicing the “AND-factor” now.  Strive to do it perfectly “AND” be patient with the times you fall short.  Work hard at it “AND” have fun with it along the way. I could keep going “AND” you’d quit reading…so I better just quit now.

A Fall Frenzy of Family Fun

Fall has arrived…and with it the fall frenzy of family fun activities. In case you’re stumped on ideas for fall family fun, try one of these 10 ideas.

  1. Have a campfire. Nothing warms a cool fall night like sitting around a bonfire. Invite another family or enjoy s’mores with just your spouse and kids. You can even limit it to your spouse and make it a romantic evening. Either way, gather round and enjoy the fire for family fun. (Read S’More Family Fun for more)
  2. Go for a family hike. Enjoy the crisp fresh air, the colorful fall leaves, and time with family on a hike through your local park or a regional trail. (I enjoy Frick Park or the Laurel Highlands in our area. Where are the great hiking trails in your area?)
  3. Enjoy a high school or college football game. Put on your favorite team colors, buy some nachos, and cheer for your favorite team. You may even invite another family who supports the opposing team and give one another a little friendly ribbing at the game.
  4. Carve a few pumpkins. Sit down with your family and carve some decorative pumpkins. See who can come up with the most original carving. While you’re at it, roast some of the pumpkin seeds. Delicious family fun.
  5. Go on a hayride. You can even enjoy some hot cider while you’re on the ride. After the ride, why not find your way through a local corn maze? Laugh and have fun as you explore and discover your way through the maze.
  6. Enjoy some hot drinks. You can go someplace for the drinks or make them at home. Try hot cider, gourmet hot cocoa, pumpkin spice latte, or maple cinnamon coffee. Get a different drink for each family member and share. Drink up…cheers. (Read about the extra benefits of this hot drink for your family in A Family Fun Night with Amazing Health Benefits)
  7. Bake a pie together. While you’re at it, bake two and take one to your neighbor or a shut-in you know. (Celebrate your family with pie for a year!!)
  8. Attend a band festival. It is great entertainment to watch a variety of school band put on their marching musical shows. Enjoy some hot cocoa while you’re there.
  9. Rake the leaves in your yard into a pile and jump into the pile.
  10. Host a fall harvest party. Invite other families. Make it potluck and enjoy everyone’s favorite dish. Build a bonfire and enjoy the warm fire, delicious food, and great company. (Just so you know, going on a double date builds greater intimacy and a stronger marriage for both couples! Plug in for Family Hapiness )

Fall can become a frenzy of family fun with these ideas. Or, you can modify each one to have a romantic getaway with your spouse. Either way, enjoy your fall and the opportunities it brings to build a stronger marriage and family!

With An Eye to the Future

One of my daughter’s dearest friends (and a close family friend as well) got married in September. They arranged a beautiful wedding and reception. There were two unique aspects of their wedding that revealed their hearts and the direction of their life together. First, they invited all of us to not only witness their marriage but to join with them in worship during the ceremony. We sang praise to the God of Love. It was a time to remember that the love they share is a gift from the Giver and Sustainer of Love.


Second, they shared in the Lord’s Supper with one another after exchanging their vows. In essence, their first act as a married couple was to share in the memory of the One who “gave Himself” for His Bride, to make her holy and blameless.


These two acts, worship and sharing the Lord’s Supper, not only represent a moment in their ceremony but, I pray, set the direction for their marriage as well. I hope they engaged in these two acts with an eye to the future. Marriage is beautiful, a wonderful glimpse of heaven. In those times when marriage is good, I hope they remember to worship the One who gives the gift of love. But, marriage can prove difficult at times. It is not always easy to “give ourselves” to our spouse, to sacrifice our own desires in order to bring our spouses into a closer relationship with us. I pray that during those times they will remember the Lord’s Supper and how He gave Himself for His Bride, sacrificing Himself to bring His Bride closer in relationship to Him. With these thoughts in mind, I offer this pray for you, Anthony and Alyssa, a blessing for your marriage.


May your way, when it is easy,

Be filled with humble praise;

But when it’s rocky or obstructed

Or trying or just plain tough

Let your strength be found in worship

Of the One who feeds your love;

The One who gave Himself to make 

His True Love’s charms shine forth.


May you, as well, give of your selves

And so release the seed of

Love to blossom in full sight 

So all her charms are known.

Then, turn again to worship

And offer humble praise

To Him who nurtures your true love

In times of joy and pain.     


Anthony and Alyssa, I pray you find the joy of your lifetime in one another and in the God you chose to worship and remember during your wedding ceremony, the God who gave you this wonderful gift of love.

Mundane Opportunities for Quality Time

Every parent knows the need to spend quality time with their children. It seems almost trite to even say it. But, in this fast paced age, how can we spend quality time with our children? In the midst of school, work, sports, dance, music lessons, and the myriad other activities of life, how do we spend quality time with our children? Well, I’d like to recommend eight daily, mundane activities that offer amazing opportunities for quality time with your children.

  1. Car rides. We cart our kids all over the community for activities. Take “the long way” there and use that time to connect with your children.
  2. Household chores. I realize this may sound obvious, but we all have chores. Why not ask your children to join you in getting them done. They can help with the laundry, cleaning the room, pulling weeds, and a myriad of other chores around the house. But, don’t send them off to do the chore alone. Do the chore together. Make it a joint effort, a partnership. While doing the chore together, talk to one another. Ask about their day. Tell some jokes. Sing a song. Spend some quality time.
  3. Welcome home. When your children come home from school, practice, or time with friends, welcome them home. Make your welcome home more than a mere “hello” and passing glance. Give them a hug. Ask them about their practice. Go over their plans for tomorrow. Ask about their friends. Spend some quality time with your children as you welcome them home.
  4. Walking the dog. If you have a dog, why not walk the dog together?  I know. We teach responsibility by having our children walk the dog.  It’s true. But they learn responsibility as well as how much we value them and the joy of a growing relationship when we walk the dog with them. Might as well get the greater results for the same chore.  By the way, if you don’t have a dog, try Walking the Dog with a yoyo together (Learn how here). In other words, spend some time playing together, even if that means buying a yoyo so you can learn to Walk the Dog.
  5. Shopping. That’s right. You can spend quality time with your children while doing your grocery shopping, clothes shopping, or miscellaneous shopping. You can also learn about your children’s interests while you shop. Let them teach you about some of the items you want to buy like computers, phones, music, or video games to name a few.
  6. Dinner preparation. Dinner preparation offers a great time for quality time. Make the food preparation and table preparation sacred times of conversation and creating together. Make table clearing and dishwashing sacred times of working together as well, sacred times of serving one another. As you engage in each of these sacred times talk, laugh, plan, disclose…enjoy quality time.
  7. Baking is also a great time for quality time. Bake a pie. Bake a dozen cookies. Bake anything you like. Mix it, prepare it, cook it and enjoy eating it together. Don’t forget the quality time available in clean up—washing pots and pans, utensils and dishes. This all becomes a great opportunity for quality time as you talk and share with one another throughout the process.
  8. Bedtime. Bedtime routines may offer one of the best times for quality time. As part of the bedtime routine you can talk about the day. Share what each person enjoyed most or is most grateful for. Talk about any trouble spots of the day. Reconnect. Share dreams for tomorrow. Encourage one another. The last moments of the day become special moments of quality time.

These eight innocuous, mundane moments of the day become transformed into quality time when we mindfully use them to connect with one another, learn about one another, and grow closer with one another.

Defeat the One-Word Answer

Have you noticed your children’s superpower? It’s the superpower of giving one-word answers.

  • How was your day? “Alright.”
  • What did you do today? “Nothing.”
  • Where you been? “Nowhere.”
  • Where you going? “I don’t know.” (I know, this one is actually three words but is still fits into his superpower of giving an answer with no real information.)
  • Who are you going with? “Friends.”

I’m sure you’ve experienced this superpower. I want to offer you the kryptonite recipe that will defeat this “one-word superpower.” It consists of two ingredients. First, ask open-ended questions like:

  • What made you laugh today?
  • What was the nicest thing someone did for you today?
  • What nice things did you do for other people today?
  • What’s your favorite class? What makes it so good?
  • What’s your least favorite class? What makes it your least favorite?
  • What’s the difference between this year at school and last year at school? How are they different?
  • What was the most interesting/funniest thing a teacher said today?
  • Which of your classmates would make the best teacher? Why?
  • What was the most unusual outfit in school today?
  • Who did you help today? What did you do?
  • How did you see God today?

You get the idea. Ask open-ended questions. Second, ask those questions wisely and judiciously. To ask questions wisely and judiciously takes a little effort. Specifically,…

  1. Do not bombard your children with questions. Some parents fire questions like bullets from a machine gun. Slow it down. Limit the question. Ask one question and then…
  2. Shut up and listen. The number one way to encourage your children to talk to you is for you to listen to them. Allow what they say to guide the conversation and influence you rather than you trying to guide the conversation to influence them. Follow the conversation where they lead it. You will learn a lot about them when you do.
  3. Don’t force the conversation. If your children need some down time, let them have it. Let them come to you and initiate the conversation. When they do, stop what you’re doing and listen. Give them your time and attention. Doing so communicates your desire to talk with them and your willingness to do so on their terms, not just your terms. That respect will come back to you when you initiate conversation with them.

Mix these ingredients together and you get the kryptonite for your children’s superpower of the one-word answer. Use it often. Use it wisely. Use it in love.