Archive for December 24, 2011

6 Resources to Revolutionize Your Parenting Skills in 2012

At the end of every year I sit down, review the goals I made for the previous year, and think about goals for the coming year. I don’t always accomplish my goals, but making goals provides direction and opportunity for growth. Parenting is one area in which I like to set a few goals. Parenting is hard work. Anyone who thinks otherwise probably does not have children. A great way to grow as a parent is through self-education. We learn about things we value; and, what could be of greater value than our children? With that in mind, we want to constantly learn about our children, how to care for them, and how to help them mature. So, make a goal this year to become a stronger parent by reading a good book on parenting. Below are 6 possibilities. There are many more, but I have listed 6 for your consideration. Pick one to read. Read it alone or read it with your spouse; and then implement some of the many practical ideas they offer.
     ·         Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting by John Gottman and Joan DeClaire
Successful adults have learned to manage their emotions and, most likely, learned this skill from their parents while they were young. Emotional intelligence is crucial to success in friendships, marriages, work, and even conflict. In Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, the authors equip parents with a 5-step emotional-coaching model parents can use with their children, teaching them to manage their emotions in a positive way while finding appropriate solutions to problems that arouse those difficult emotions. I truly appreciate Dr. Gottman’s candid discussion about “teachable moments” as well as situations in which a parent will find implementing this 5-step model ineffective. An excellent book for parenting a child at any age.
     ·         Grace Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel
In Grace Based Parenting, Dr. Kimmel offers an alternative to the fear-based parenting style promoted in our culture. He offers an excellent explanation as to why rigid rules and checklists do not work in the long run. Fortunately, he does not stop there. He goes on to recommend a parenting style fashioned after the grace of God that teaches us to “deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in this present age” (Titus 2:11-13). That is a skill our children desperately need…and, Grace Based Parenting can help parents instill that skill into their children. 
     ·         The Blessing of a B Minus: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Resilient Teenagers by Wendy Mogel
In The Blessing of a B Minus, Dr. Mogel has combined her expertise as a clinical psychologist, experience as a parent of teens, and her Jewish heritage to describe insightful and effective tools for parents of teens. I love Dr. Mogel’s open and honest discussion of parenting teens as well as her wit and insight. Her insights are timely if you have a teen in the home. The Blessing of a B Minus will change the way you look at your teen’s behavior and have a positive impact on your relationship with your teen. Anyone with a teen in the house will find this book of immense benefit!
     ·         The Optimistic Child: Proven Program to Safeguard Children from Depression and Build Lifelong Resiliency by Martin Seligman
Dr. Seligman designed and tested the Penn Depression Prevention Program with 8-12 year olds and found it effective in challenging pessimistic thinking, increasing appropriate optimistic thinking, and combatting depression. In The Optimistic Child, he presents the key components of that program and offers parents concrete practical ways to implement these ideas into daily parenting practices. You will learn how to teach your child life skills and thinking patterns that build mastery and confidence. Amazingly, these ideas will help combat depression in life and teach crucial problem solving skills. An invaluable parenting tool in today’s environment of negativity and criticism.
     ·         The Blessing by John Trent and Gary Smalley
The Blessing is an “oldie but goody” in parenting resources. Every child needs to know the unconditional love, acceptance, and approval of their parents. In The Blessing, John Trent and Gary Smalley offer practical advice to insure that your child experiences your love and acceptance. How? By receiving a blessing from you! You will find a step-by-step guide for offering all five aspects of a healthy and effective blessing to your children. Each time you offer the blessing, you give your children the gift of feeling loved, esteemed, and valued. The sense of unconditional love, acceptance, and approval is a gift of a lifetime in this age of performance-based acceptance! Follow the guidelines in this book and offer that gift to your child in 2012.
     ·         Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours by Kevin Leman
Kevin Leman, a psychologist and father, offers expert advice on “reality discipline”–a loving no-nonsense approach to parenting that helps children learn from their behaviors. In Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, Dr. Leman helps parents understand why children misbehave and what to do about it. He offers excellent recommendations around allowances, responding to temper tantrums, and reducing sibling rivalries. A great read for parents with children of any age.
I had a hard time narrowing my choices down to just 6 books…there are so many good parenting tools. You can find all these resources and more by visiting Our Favorite Picks. Have a great New Year…a wonderful 2012 growing honor, grace, and celebration in your family!

4 Resolutions to Transform Your Family This Year

I hope you had a great Christmas enjoying your family and recalling the birth of Christ. With 2012 fast approaching, you may be thinking about New Year’s resolutions. Many people establish goals and resolutions with the intent of making their lives better. As you consider resolutions, consider that research suggests a happy family will add years to life while a conflict-ridden family will increase your risk for illness. With that in mind, let me suggest 4 New Year’s resolutions that can build happiness for your family in 2012.
      1.      Resolve to ensure your family members feel understood by you, especially when you get the urge to defend yourself. Do you ever get that urge to defend yourself? I do. I want to make sure they understand me and the reasons for my actions. When we get that urge to defend, stop. Before doing anything else, make sure the person you are talking to feels understood by you. Restate what you believe they intend to say. When they respond with a “Now you understand” or something like that, you have successfully reached understanding. Your family member feels understood. Then, and only then, can you offer your explanation for them to understand. Sometimes, once you understand them you may realize you have no need to defend yourself.
2.      Go a step further and resolve to work hard at truly understanding your family members, especially when you feel misunderstood. When you feel misunderstood by family members, you can bet that they feel misunderstood as well. Use that feeling of being misunderstood as a signal that you need to work harder to understand your family. Quit thinking about your response, explanation, or defense and focus all your energy on listening more closely. Listen to understand the intent of their statement and the emotion behind their statement. Ask questions to clarify what they mean…intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Doing so communicates love and respect. It lets family members know that you value them and what they have to say. As you understand them, you will find them understanding you better as well.
3.      Resolve to compliment your family members, especially when you feel like criticizing them. When you get the urge to criticize a family member, step back and consider the behavior you want to criticize. For instance, you want to watch TV and your wife is running the sweeper, or, you want to clean the house and your husband is sitting on the porch relaxing. Look for some aspect of that behavior that you can praise or appreciate. Your wife is running the sweeper and you can appreciate how neat she keeps your home. Your husband is sitting on the porch and you can appreciate the work he has done prior as well as his ability to relax. After you have the compliment in mind, go to them, offer the compliment and even put it into action. Stand up, help your wife clean for a time and tell her how much you appreciate the work she does around the house. Stop cleaning, take a moment, and sit on the porch with your husband. Let him know how much you appreciate the work he has done and how much you enjoy sitting with him, relaxing with him, and enjoying his company. This compliment will get you much further than the criticism.
4.      Resolve to read at least one book on family life this year. We study those things we find interesting and valuable. We invest time in learning about work to become better employees. We study sport statistics because we enjoy sports. We watch entertainment news because we enjoy learning about our favorite stars. Really, what could be more valuable than your family? And, in my opinion, nothing is more interesting than family life. So, invest in your family by reading a book or attending a workshop. You can read a book on parenting, marriage, or general family life. You can read it individually or together. Our book, FAMILY BY GOD’S DESIGN, focuses on family in general and offers practical ways to implement honor, grace, and celebration in your family. Other great books can be found on our website at … and some of our favorites at Our Favorite Picks. Whatever you choose, resolve to read one book on family this year.
That’s it—four resolutions for 2012 that can transform your family life. I hope you have a wonderful new year of family honor, grace, and celebration.

Christmas, Materialism, and Family

With Christmas just around the corner, a recent study suggests that materialistic attitudes reduce happiness in marriage. With a plethora of advertisers spouting the “one with the most toys wins,” this study suggests the opposite. The researchers looked at over 1,700 couples and discovered that a focus on getting or spending money was associated with lower levels of responsiveness between spouses, less emotional maturity, more ineffective communication, higher levels of conflict, lower relationship satisfaction, and less marital stability. Perhaps, this focus on “material things” resulted in over-working in an effort to gain the “needed money;” and overworking led to less time with family and less opportunity to develop family relationships. Perhaps the focus on material things stemmed from a self-focus instead of a relational focus. Either way, a focus on monetary gain did not promote happiness and it interfered with family intimacy. This study brings to mind the wisdom of one ancient author who wrote, “The love of money is the root of all evil.”
Today we stand at the brink of Christmas—a time when commercials and advertisements cater to our materialistic desires. Get her a diamond. Buy him a car. Satisfy your child’s need with an Ipad (by the way, how young is too young for an Ipad?). Buy this or buy that to find happiness. The American Research Group suggests that the average amount of money spent on Christmas gifts by any one person will range between $646-808 this year, depending on how the buyer purchases their gifts. We say “it’s the thought that counts” but obsessively assess each gift, hoping the receiver will be completely satisfied. In spite of all this effort and money, those receiving a gift from us are often disappointed; and, “according to the Direct Marketing Association, 65% of the population will be standing in line” to return their gift after the holidays.
All this focus on “what I’ll get for Christmas” can contribute to family disaster at Christmas time. What can a family do to avoid the materialistic, commercial side of Christmas? Here are a few ideas.
  • Focus on the more meaningful aspects of Christmas–family togetherness, generosity in giving, love, and caring.  
  • Watch Christmas movies and TV specials that focus on the meaning of Christmas. Sit down as a family and watch a few movies like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Clause, and of course, The Charlie Brown Christmas Attend a Christmas Eve service together.
  • Encourage family members to make a “Christmas Giveaway List” along with their “Christmas Wish List.” The “Christmas Giveaway List” can focus on all the gifts you plan to give away.
  • While you’re at it, go through all of your old toys and clothes. Pick out the ones you no longer use and take them to the Salvation Army or give them to a less fortunate family.
  • Each night, take five minutes with your family to write down 3-5 things for which you give thanks. Write something different each night for the month of December and January.
  • Send “thank-you notes” after Christmas. In fact, send thank-you notes throughout the year. You can thank people for a gift they gave you, for their service in some area, for a trait you simply admire in them, or any number of other things. Acknowledging our thanks is a wonderful habit to establish.
 Above all, remember the gift of Emmanuel this Christmas. Contemplate what the gift of God’s Son really means in your individual life and your family life.

Don’t let a materialistic attitude grow in your family through the Christmas season. Instead, cultivate an attitude of generosity and family intimacy. Focus on the true meaning of Christmas as told by Linus in Charlie Brown’s Christmas.

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!!

What the Manger Teaches Me About Family

Every Christmas we arrange a manger scene in our house. A few shepherds, three “wise men from afar,” and an angel or two all look adoringly toward the baby Jesus in a manger. Of course, we also have a few barn animals milling about. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of Christmas, this simple scene reminds us of the Christmas story, taking us back to the first Christmas day when Christ was born in Bethlehem. One of the things I like most about the manger scene is that a family sits at the center of it all. Of course, the baby Jesus is the ultimate center, but even He is surrounded by His earthly family. The whole world—from the wealthy wise men and the poor shepherds to the heavenly angels–drew near to admire a baby surrounded by family. Amazingly, they all drew near to admire a baby in the midst of a town so crowded and chaotic that the only place for a pregnant woman to deliver her baby was in a barn. Can you imagine the crowd that must have filled Bethlehem, the greed that turned a woman-in-labor away from a warm bed and clean dwelling? Yet in the midst of that rushing crowd, the greedy market, and the tired travelers, a family drew near to one another, cared for one another, and loved one another…extravagantly. That’s the first lesson I learn about family from the manger scene: make time for family. Put aside all the trappings of Christmas–the excessive material gifts, the unrestrained shopping, the Griswold-style decorations, the greedy desires, and the bigger than life Christmas tree–and make time to share with your family, time to build one another up and time to love one another extravagantly…just as God loved us by sending Emmanuel to earth.
The manger also teaches us that Christmas is a time to slow down and treasure your family, ponder your family memories. In the midst of the shepherds, wise men, and animals, usually kneeling next to Joseph and gazing at the baby Jesus, we find Mary. Mary does something that I believe so crucial to the Christmas season: she “treasures all these things and ponders them.” As angels sing in the heavens, shepherds rush through town to find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, strangers fight for hotel rooms and their place in line, and parents grumble about spending the night in the crowded town of Bethlehem, Mary quietly treasured her newborn baby. She listened to the shepherd’s story and the angel’s prophecies about her child and “pondered them in her heart.” She took time to “treasure” and “ponder” her family, to cherish her family and keep them in her heart and mind. Christmas is a time to slow down and treasure your family, ponder your family memories.
Events leading up the manger scene teach us to give family members the benefit of the doubt as well. Joseph had a hard time during Mary’s pregnancy. After all, he thought Mary had fooled around on him and gotten pregnant by another man. He loved Mary, but how could he marry her now? He decided to quietly end the engagement and move on. One night an angel appeared to him and explained the situation. The angel told Joseph that Mary had been faithful to him and that the baby “conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Joseph had difficulty believing Mary…understandable. But, God cleared the air and confirmed the truth. Joseph obeyed what the “angel of the Lord had commanded him” and married Mary. This is an extreme case, but it teaches us of the need to give family members the benefit of the doubt. We think the best of those we love and we give them the benefit of the doubt. In the midst of the rush of Christmas, give family members the benefit of the doubt. When someone blows up in frustration or says something with a sharp edge, give the benefit of the doubt…think the best of them.
The manger shouts for us to make sacrifices for our family. Mary, mistakenly thought to be a teen mother out of wedlock, sacrificed a “holy reputation” to trust God in starting her family. Joseph, a man whose friends may have mistakenly believed he married a cheating woman, sacrificed his reputation to marry and start a family. They both sacrificed their homeland to move their family to Egypt and escape Herod’s wrath. Perhaps the greatest sacrifice of all was made by God, who gave up his “only begotten Son” to make a world of lost people His adopted children. Christmas is brimming with sacrifice that leads to greater happiness and stronger family ties. This Christmas, follow the lesson of the manger: put your family’s needs above your own and make the sacrifices necessary to promote your family’s health.
One final lesson of Christmas: seek the Christ child. The angels sang of His birth. The shepherds rushed through Bethlehem to worship Him. Wise men traveled great distances to bring Him gifts. Simeon blessed Him. The widow gave thanks for Him in the temple. Each and every one heard of his miraculous birth and the promise of redemption. Each one came to see and worship Emmanuel–God with us. When we get right to the crux of it, isn’t that what Christmas is all about? The fact that God became man and dwelt among men, Emmanuel, God with us! This Christmas, join with the whole heavenly family and seek the Christ child.

Making Christmas Great for the Whole Family

Christmas time can pull a family together or tear them apart. It can draw family ties tighter or drive a wedge deeper between family members. Christmas brings great joy or deep sorrow. What makes the difference?
Is it the number of gifts under the tree? No, that leads to competition (“He got more than me!”), entitlement (“I should have gotten that. I’m more…”), or even disappointment (“I didn’t get everything I wanted.” “This was the wrong one.”). Even the Grinch “puzzled ’til his puzzler was sore:” “What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more” (Dr. Seuss).
Maybe the amount of money we spend…the more money, the more joy. No, the more money we spend the deeper the post-holiday financial slump we endure. In fact, if Christmas joy came from money we might be tempted to agree with Ebenezer Scrooge: “What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer.” Check out this video by Advent Christmas regarding the idea of money and the meaning of Christmas.
Maybe it’s the decorations. Like the Griswold family you can spend time and energy, even days getting a plethora of lights to shine forth the Christmas spirit. However, if all you care about are the decorations, you may end agreeing with Ellen Griswold when she said, “I don’t know what to say, except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery.”
If these don’t make the difference, then what does make Christmas a time of family togetherness, a time of deepening intimacy and mutual joy? Family and the traditions they share. Traditions help families and children in many ways. Consider just a few:
  • Family members bond over the shared experiences and beliefs that are inherent in traditions, helping our children build a healthy identity.
  • Family traditions create a family story that we can pass down through generations, giving continuity to our sense of family and stability to our children.
  • Family intimacy deepens as each person contributes to the development and completion of a family tradition. Children feel intimately involved, loved, and valued as they contribute to the shared experience of family traditions.
  • The shared traditions of Christmas add joy and celebration to the holiday. They help to create family identity that strengthens and maintains a sense of security in our children.
In light of family traditions, decorating a Christmas tree becomes a time of celebration, joy, and laughter. Arranging a manger scene provides the opportunity to share a family belief in the incarnation of God. As we share gifts with each family member, we communicate a mutual adoration and generosity for one another. Opening a present on Christmas Eve offers the opportunity to build anticipation. Attending Christmas Eve services reminds us of God’s love given through the gift of Emmanuel. Each tradition your family enjoys builds intimacy, strengthens family identity, enhances family celebration, and creates joyous moments to recall throughout the year and even into future generations. Yes, “the best of all gifts around any Christmas tree [is] the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other” (Burton Hillis). And a wonderful way to wrap up a family is in a lovely tradition.
What traditions does your family enjoy at Christmas time?

3 Things Grace-Filled Parents Give Up

Grace–the unmerited and generous giving of ourselves to another with no expectation of repayment. In many ways, effective parenting flows out of grace. We give things up so our children might have more. We give of our time, our resources and our energy knowing that, if we do this successfully, our children will leave us and live a life independent of us. Sometimes, however, our own tightly held desires and expectations interfere with grace as we burden our children with our unfulfilled dreams. Our personal fears eclipse our ability to help our children identify their personal strengths and build a unique life based on those personal strengths. We desperately hold on to expectations and personal dreams, molding our children in the image of our desire rather than helping them discover their best self, created in the image of God. To really parent with grace, we have to give up the self-focused dreams and expectations we might hold. For instance, as grace-filled parents, we…
     1.      Give up our self-focused dreams and expectations and encourage our children to build dreams based on their own desires and abilities. At times, parents attempt to live out their own dreams through their children. Or, parents might act out of an expectation that their children show talent in all areas. They demand that their children achieve success academically, athletically, artistically, emotionally, and socially. Such expectations and demands make it the teens duty to “bring glory and reassurance to the family” by accomplishing “success.” Grace-filled parents give up these extreme expectations and dreams. They help their children define success based on their unique talents, strengths, and desires… even if that means their child pursues a career different than their own.
     2.      Give up our fear of rejection. Children grow older and become teens. Teens mature and become young adults. The process of “growing up” and maturing involves separating from parents, differentiating from parents, finding “my individuality,” become “my own person.” This involves making independent decisions and establishing an independent life, distancing from parents. Sometimes, this feels like rejection to a parent. “They’re more interested in their friends than family.” “They just want to do their own thing.” At times, a teen may turn away from their parent, insult their parent, or even demean their parent in their effort to define themselves as an independent person. If parents, in response to a fear of rejection, attempt to hold on tighter through demands and rules, their child will rebel more. Instead, give up your fear of rejection. Allow your child to separate from you and develop an independent life. Put faith in your child and what you taught them during their childhood. Lean into your loving relationship with them and love them. Allow them to explore and talk with you about their exploration. Accept them, even when you feel rejected.
     3.      Give up worries about our children’s future. Our society operates on the lie of “diminishing resources.” It tells us that our children “mortgage their future” with imperfect transcripts or test scores, less than constant immersion in scheduled activities, and only basic achievements on their college resume. Our children are so harried and rushed that they have little time for trial and error, unstructured activities, or periods of “bad attitudes.” They feel the constant pressure of achievement, success, and accomplishment. Unfortunately, we, as parents, can add to these feelings, or…we can give up our fear about our children’s future and focus on giving them our loving acceptance. We can put more effort into teaching our children how to enjoy and balance life than in building a college resume. Most importantly, we can focus more on enjoying a relationship with our children than we focus on coaching them to meet cultural expectations of success.
These are not simple tasks in today’s culture of adrenaline rush, performance orientation, and addiction to achievement. However, truly grace-filled parents will work to give up selfish expectations, inflated fears of personal rejection, and personal worries about their children’s future. What we give up, we replace with loving acceptance and guidance, a listening ear and empathetic response, and, ultimately, an encouraging but gentle push toward independence.