Tag Archive for creativity

Parent Like a Jester

I once heard a story about a king who was about to make a terrible decision that would devastate his kingdom. His advisers tried to talk him out of the impending mistake. They pleaded with him to change his mind. They spoke softly and yelled loudly while repeating the same words over and over again. But, no matter how many times they explained the dire consequences of his decision, the king refused to listen. Then a jester came to visit the king. The jester made jokes. He sang a song. He made himself look rather foolish. The jester—in all his songs, jokes, stories, and antics—gave the king the same message as the advisers. But the king listened to the jester with enthusiasm.  He laughed and cried. Then, when the jester left, the king thought to himself, “You know, that jester made a lot of sense.” And with that, the king changed his mind. He would not make the mistake everyone had warned him about.

Why was the jester effective when the wise advisers were not? Because the jester had a bigger toolbox of interventions; he had more options. The advisers could only repeat their admonitions in louder and more urgent terms. The king would hear none of it. The jester, on the other hand, had a larger toolbox. He could sing, tell stories, offer a joke, make the king laugh. He had options…and the king listened.


What does this have to do with parenting? Effective parents are like the jester. They have a toolbox filled with options beyond merely “telling” their children what needs done. Take the challenge of getting your children to clean up their room as an example. How you approach this challenge depends on your children’s temperament and developmental stage, your family values, the environment, and more.  So, you might need more than one idea…and you need ideas that can change as your children grow and change. For instance, to get your children to clean up their room you might:

  1. Sing the “Clean Up Song” if they are younger. (Here is Barney’s Clean Up Song.) 
  2. Turn cleaning up into a game of “who can clean up the most.”
  3. Give the toys not put away a “time out.” Put them away where your children can not play with them for a period of time.
  4. Offer a reward for cleaning up. The reward can be as simple as reading a book together, going to get ice cream, or a chance to watch a TV show.
  5. Tell them they cannot engage in something they want to do (like go out with friends) until they have cleaned up their room.
  6. You might also offer specific directionfor cleaning the room, telling them exactly what needs picked up and dusted. Children need us to teach them the specifics of our expectation before they can complete the chore alone.  
  7. Find a way to make the chore fun (Read Family Fun Theory for more).

Or consider the challenge of getting your children to complete their chores. You might utilize ideas like:

  1. Giving or withholding an allowance.
  2. Give them money up front so they can pay someone else to complete the chore when they don’t want to. They can also learn budgeting skills while “getting chores done.” (Read Should We Give an Allowance to learn how this works.)
  3. Make chores a family activity. Children often cooperate better when everyone is involved.
  4. Reward your children with a currency they care about, such as screen time or time with a parent.
  5. Make chores your children need to complete and chores you need to complete into a competition. For instance,create a Tic Tac Toe board. They can be “X’s” & you can be “0’s.” Whenever a person completes one of their chores, they can place their “X” or “0” on the board. Whoever completes their chores quickly enough can win the game.
  6. Use a sticker chart.

The main idea is to fill your parenting toolbox with options based on your children’s temperament and developmental age. Like the jester, when you have more options you become more effective.

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.

From Crestfallen to Cheery by Way of Creativity

Ever had one of those days? I’m sure you have. You know the day I’m talking about. It starts off bad and goes downhill. You wake up grumpy and irritable. Everyone around you seems to do everything they can to make it worse—they move too slowly, they ask too many stupid questions, they smile too much, they’re just too cheery! Of course, there is one day you may find even worse (I know I do). That’s the day your spouse or teen is having one of those days and you have to put up with their bad mood! Not only do you end up on the receiving end of their grumpy irritation, but you suffer the pain of witnessing them suffer. What a day!!?

Well, I have good news. Research by Tamlin Conner at New Zealand’s University of Otago offers a solution (You can read more about the study in The Daily Activities That Promote An Upward Spiral of Flourishing). Even better, the solution can be fun for you and your whole family! What’s the solution? Here it is: Engage in creative activities like singing, songwriting, creative writing, knitting, crocheting, making new recipes, painting, graphic design, performance, or…you get the idea.

Tamlin Conner’s study demonstrated that creative activities lead to a boost in positive emotion the next day. Positive emotions included happiness, joy, enthusiasm, excitement, and pleasurable engagement. See the upward spiral? Creativity today leads to more positive emotions tomorrow. Those positive emotions contribute to more creativity which leads to more positive emotions…and so it goes in an upward spiral from crestfallen to cheery by way of creativity.

What if the whole family got involved in this upward spiral? What if you and your family made it a point to enjoy some simple creativity every day? Maybe you would tell stories or knit scarfs, cook a meal together or rewrite the words to a familiar melody.  It really doesn’t matter. The activity could fit the mood and need of the day. But, it will enhance the chances of a more positive mood tomorrow…and, if you’re not careful, you might just find yourself enjoying today as a family too!

What is Shaping Your Children’s Mind

Recent data from Extreamist showed children between 2-18 years old stream about 1.8 hours of content from Netflix, Hulu, Your Tube, or other online services each day. This adds up to 650 hours per year. On the other hand, data from the National Wild Life Federations suggests children spend an average of 4-7 minutes playing outdoors each day. boxPlayThat only adds up to 24 to 43 hours per year. In other words, the amount of time children spend streaming and watching shows is 15 to 27 times greater than the time they spend in unstructured outdoor play. (Read Kids Watch Services Like Netflix 15 Times as Much as They Play Outdoors for more on these statistics.) They spend more time watching cops and robbers on a screen than they spend playing cops and robbers…more time watching fantasy stories created and filmed by others than they spend creating their own imaginative stories. The unstructured, imaginative play they miss out on by watching streaming videos is the very activity that helps fuel their emotional maturity and makes them “a head taller than themselves” in self-control and emotional management (See Make Your Child “a Head Taller Than Himself” for more.)

Another study, led by a professor at the University of Montreal, reveals a few more specifics about the impact of watching TV, especially for toddlers (Couch Potato: Chilling In Front of the TV as a Toddler Can Lead to Being Bullied Later in Life.) This study examined the connection between time spent watching TV as a 29-month-old toddler and the same child’s social experience as a 13-year-old. The results suggest that every 53 minutes of daily toddler TV exposure increased the risk of peer victimization, social isolation, or aggression in that same child at 13 years of age. In other words, the more a toddler watched TV, the greater the risk of poor social interactions as a 13-year-old.

Overall, the more time children spend watching TV, the less time they spend engaging in the creative imaginative, and interactive play that is so crucial to healthy development. Maybe we, as parents, need to ask ourselves some difficult questions:

  • Do we want our children’s minds, imaginations, and emotions shaped by half-hour sitcoms and frenetic cartoons or by the interactive, imaginative play engaged in with others?
  • Do we want our children’s intellect and thought life stimulated by the subtle innuendos of shows streamed into the home or by the undivided responsive interaction of friends and family?
  • Do we want our children’s values to mimic those learned on the internet (where someone can be thrown across the room and stand up unharmed) or those learned from interactions with “real-live” people with real emotions and real consequences?

I’m not suggesting our children never watch TV or stream shows. However, our children will benefit greatly when we learn to limit the streaming and encourage their creative, imaginative interactions with other people.

Build Forts to Build Mature Children

I lived near a very small (I mean, very small!) patch of woods for part of my elementary school and middle school years. I remember the joy of going “into the woods” and finding natural enclaves under bushes that I could make into “my fort.” A few minor adjustments and additions turned those branches into a naturally camouflaged hideout. I also remember “building forts” out of blankets, tables, and cushions in the house. As a father, I even joined my daughters in making forts during their elementary school years. In fact, fort building is a pretty universal activity among children.

Fort building flows from our children’s developmental needs and desires. During the middle years of elementary school, children start figuring out their nearby world. They want to understand how their home fits into the neighborhood and which streets and paths go from their home to other destinations. They also become more independent, developing a unique self, separate from their family and engaged in the world. All in all, it’s quite an adventure…and building an outside fort adds to the adventure. Even an indoor fort adds excitement to a rainy day and helps satisfy strong developmental needs like:

  • Fort building encourages independence. Children gain independence as they gather materials and build their forts however they like. They establish themselves as separate individuals by creating their own space in a unique design of their choice.
  • Fort building also develops practical skills. Children meet their “inner engineer’ and “construction worker” when building a fort. They learn what creates a sturdy fort, what protects against the wind, what holds materials together, what materials work best for various designs…. The list of practical skills our children learn while building forts goes on.
  • Fort building enhances cognitive skills like problem-solving, planning, and organization (which may come in handy when writing their high school papers).
  • Fort building also builds social skills like cooperation, negotiation, and teamwork.
  • Fort building provides unstructured play time filled with creativity and imagination. Unstructured play encourages self-discovery, self-control, and maturity (Read Make Your Child a Head Taller Than Himself for more on this).
  • Fort building establishes “my place,” a fortress against all the stresses and demands of the outside world. In this sense, fort building can relieve stress and build skills to manage emotions.
  • Don’t forget. Fort building is also just plain fun! We all love to see our kids having fun.

So, on a rainy day, encourage your children to build a fort in the basement, attic or family room. On a nice day, encourage your children to go outside, explore, and build a primo-fort in a secluded spot. Supply some materials and encourage the adventure. Then sit back and enjoy watching them develop skills while growing more mature!

The Good, the NOT Good, and the VERY Good

We just returned from facilitating a marriage retreat at Camp Christian in Mill Run, PA (learn more about Camp Christian here). The theme of the retreat was Blessing Your Spouse. We had a wonderful time with a great group of couples. At one point, we talked about the good, the NOT good and the VERY good of creation. Starting with the fourth day of creation, God looked at His work and “saw that it was good.” However, as His creation neared completion, familysunheartHe saw one thing that was NOT good. He saw that man was alone and said, “It is NOT good for man to be alone.” In response, God fashioned a woman out of the man’s rib…a person like man yet unique from him in many ways, a person with whom he could know God more completely. Man now had a companion who could stand face to face with him and reflect the image of God to him and with him. He was not alone! With a woman at his side, man would be able to know the relational intimacy and love that creates new life and reflects the image of God.

God had now “created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” But, creation was not yet complete. To complete creation, “God blessed them [Adam and Eve]….” I am fascinated that the first blessing spoken by God was to bless a couple—a couple created by God in the image of God. After God had blessed Adam and Eve, creation was complete. He “saw all He had made, and behold, it was VERY good.” Creation was not VERY good until there was a couple, a man and a woman, created in the image of God and blessed by God. Creation became VERY good after God blessed the first couple to fill the earth, to share their love, to create life, to tame the earth, and to harness the potential of the earth for the benefit of all. The history of man began when a God of relationship, in whose reign justice and compassion join together in love, created people in His image and blessed them with the task to reign in a manner reflective of His image. And that reign begins with marriage—two people joining their lives and futures, sharing their love and knowledge, and working together to fill the earth with life and peace. What a grand calling we have when we join together in marriage and in love.

Let me end this short blog with a blessing for you and your marriage, a blessing adapted from God’s blessing of Adam and Eve found in Genesis 1:28-30:

“As a couple, be fruitful—pass on your life and your knowledge with creativity and love;

Fill the earth with your vibrant love and joy, beginning with your marriage and extending to the all those around you.

Let the glory of God shine through your marriage; courageously utilize the power instilled in you by the nature of God’s image to replace what leads to death in this world with generative, eternal life.

Rule with compassionate, loving stewardship over all created beings, both the persons & animals God may place under your care.

Know that God will always remain with you and your relationship, “even to the ends of the world.” He will care for you and your relationship emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually as you strive to share His love with one another, your children, your spiritual family, and all those created in His image.

Then God saw everything that He had mad, and indeed it was VERY good!”

Christmas Gifts Kids Will Love All Year Long

I’ve been thinking about what to get my children for Christmas. As I thought, my mind wandered to last year. My daughter snuck downstairs after everyone was in bed and gave me a stocking gift. The gift was a handmade coupon book filled with coupons I could “cash in” for help “taking the garbage out,” no questions asked.  I really appreciated that gift. It was thoughtful and loving, gracious…and useful. My mind wandered from there to the wise men giving three gifts to baby Jesus. I guess that’s more of a time warp than a wandering, but…. Anyway, recalling these two stories gave me an idea for this year. I want to give my daughters a gift they will remember, one that “keeps on giving throughout the year.” And, I always wanted to play a wise man. So, just like the wise men I’ve come up with three gifts: the gift of time, the gift of attention, and the gift of encouragement. You might be saying, “Nice gifts, but how will I wrap those up and put them under the Christmas tree?” Good question; and, I do have a few ideas to share with you. First though, let me tell you why those 3 gifts are great gifts: thoughtful and loving, gracious…and useful.
 
The Gift of Time: We spend time with the people we value. In fact, Josh McDowell notes that children spell love “T-I-M-E.” I value my children and I want them to know I value them. The best way to communicate that value is by spending time with them. So, I give the gift of T-I-M-E.
 
The Gift of Attention: Genuine attention validates our love for another person. In addition, a person who receives genuine attention is redeemed from isolation and loneliness. They know they are loved. They find connection and belonging in the face of genuine attention. So, I give the gift of attention.
 
The Gift of Encouragement: Encouragement inspires confidence and courage. It gives a person who is feeling down a boost. It expresses confidence in the other person that inspires them to continue growing and gives them to courage to grow. I don’t know about you, but I want my children to have a level of confidence and courage that will inspire them to pursue growth. So, I give the gift of encouragement.
 
So, three gifts (3-just like the wise men): Time, Attention, and Encouragement. But, how are we to wrap these gifts and put them in a stocking or under the Christmas tree? Here are a few ideas.
  • Subscribe to a magazine that will interest your child. You can order children’s magazines ranging from Ranger Rick to Kid’s National Geographic to Highlights. Each month they will receive your gift. Each month, you can review the magazine yourself and use the articles as starting points of discussion with your child…time, attention, and encouragement.
  • If you don’t like a magazine, try joining a “you-fill-in-the-blank” of the month club. These range from craft-of-the-month to children’s-book-of-the-month to the Lego club. If you can’t find the club you want, make your own. For instance, imagine that your child enjoys marbles and you can’t find a “marble-of-the-month-club.” Start your own. Purchase a variety of marbles…maybe 60. Wrap up a dozen to give your child on Christmas morning. Enclose a note explaining that they will get an additional 4 marbles every month. Each month, wrap up 4 marbles and give them the package to open. Now, spend time with your child playing marble games or discussing the quality of the marbles. You get to spend time with your child, give them your attention, and encourage an interest. Here are a few other links for possible monthly ideas.
  • Make a homemade coupon book that includes 12 coupons expiring on December 31, 2012. Explain that the coupon is good for a free-chore pass–you will do a chore of their request “no questions asked.” You can encourage your child by modeling a “servant’s heart” as you complete one of their chores once a month at their request.
  • Purchase tickets (at least one for your child and one for you) to an event that will interest your child (a concert, a play, etc.). Along with the tickets, provide a coupon book with 12 more coupons (one per month) that they can cash in for a simple outing with you. The coupons could include an outing for breakfast at a donut shop, lunch at a restaurant, or an outing of their choice. Now you have a monthly opportunity to spend time giving attention and encouragement to your child.
  • Give your child homemade tickets for a “Monthly Home Movie Night” complete with microwave popcorn for the whole family. Spend time discussing what movie they would like to rent and set up one night a month to sit down as a family to enjoy the movies.
  • Schedule a daily reminder on your smartphone that prompts you to give time and attention to your child by doing something encouraging for them. When you get the reminder, do something as simple as sending them a text stating that you are thinking of them, you love them, or you look forward to seeing them after school. Or, if you happen to be in a grocery store, purchase a pack of gum or a candy bar for them. Or, you might pause long enough to offer a prayer for them. Whatever you do, letting them know you think of them throughout the day will encourage them.

6 ideas to wrap up the gift of Time, Attention, and Encouragement for your child…and, at the same time, enjoy your child all year long! Merry Christmas!!