Archive for Family Shepherds

The Life Cycle of a Label in Your Child

The labels our children acquire have a life cycle of their own…and that life cycle has a tremendous impact on their identity. Unfortunately, labels are often conceived without thought. They might be conceived in anger or in jest, but they are conceived, nonetheless. You’ve seen it happen. A parent tells their child to quit being “stupid” or accuses them of being “lazy…” and a label is conceived. Or an infant gets a nickname that sticks, and a chubby baby acquires the label “Chubby” that sticks even into adolescence.

As the child develops, the label develops as well…and gives birth to their own thoughts about themselves. The labels give birth to the DNA of their self-image. “Stupid” and “lazy” are no longer simple statements conceived in anger or frustration but an integral part of the child’s thoughts about themselves. The label conceived gives birth to a self-identity of “stupid” or “lazy.” “Chubby” matures into an enduring belief about “who I am,” even as the child physically grows into a healthy young adult. The label has grown. It has taken on a life of its own, a life that our children (and ourselves) struggle with as adults. The labels of “stupid” and “lazy” battle with the hardworking achievement of an intelligent adult for that person’s primary self-image.

Of course, not all labels are the same. Some might give birth to a more positive self-image. But labels conceived in anger or in jest end up giving birth to hurt and self-deprecating inner thoughts. I once knew a young man named Sterling. His family called him “Sterile” for short, never realizing how disempowering this nickname could be. However, one day while I was visiting a church with Sterling, an older man asked his name. He replied, “Sterling.” The man smiled and said, “Like silver. You are as precious as Sterling silver.” The young man’s face lit up with a smile like I had never seen on his face before. Perhaps a more encouraging nickname would have been Silver.

All of this begs the question: what labels do you conceive in your children and the children around you? How might those labels impact your child’s self-image as they grow into adulthood with that label embedded in their thoughts? Think carefully…and act wisely.

The Lesson of Generations–Family Camp, 2022

“In Our Home We Will Laugh and Love.” It’s true. That’s what we all want…a home filled with love and laughter. The lessons learned at this year’s Family Camp will empower every family that attended to fill their home with more laughter and love. Several lessons stood out for me, but I’ll only share a few. Each one comes to us through various components of humor found in the Bible.

  • Things strike us as funny when they suddenly present an unusual and surprising contrast. With that in mind, the contrast between the apostles’ character before they knew Christ and their character after they came to know Christ is sacred humor. For instance, James and John, the “Sons of Thunder” who suggested raining down fire upon unsuspecting souls, became the apostles known for self-sacrifice and love. I have to smile when I think about how drastically they changed after they knew, really knew, Jesus. The change found in knowing Christ leads people to greater love, more passionate service, and deeper self-sacrifice. Aren’t those beautiful traits for any happy family?
  • Irony is also an important component of humor…and what could prove more ironic than recognizing who Jesus uses to accomplish His amazing work. He doesn’t only use the powerful, the rich, or the influential by worldly standards. In fact, more often than not, He specializes in using the humble, the seemingly weak, the outcasts—like me! Each one in our family is important and has a crucial role to fill in the family and the world around them, from the youngest to the oldest.
  • Sometimes God even seems to enjoy some “dark humor,” just look at the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. The lesson for our family is not in the dark humor itself though. The lesson is that God can empower each of us to do His work…and He never leaves us alone in that work. As a family, we can celebrate that we are His hands, His feet, and His mouth in loving and watching over one another.

That is only three of the many lessons we learned at Family Camp this year. One other lesson stood out for me, one not related to anything spoken. I’ve been around long enough now that those who were children when my wife and I first took our children to Family Camp are now playing games with their own children at Family Camp. People who once attended as children are now leading us in various activities at camp. It is wonderful. Families have grown and continue to enjoy their time with one another and other families. Family Camp is filled with generations of families that built “homes in which we laugh and love.”

We have experienced several difficult years between a pandemic, political strife, and ongoing conflicts. But through it all, families remain. Children grow up and have their own children. Parents come to enjoy their grandchildren. Each generation lovingly offers their gifts to the other generations—children offer the gift of new life and energy for growth, young adults the gift of hope and zeal, parents the gift of guidance and support, and grandparents the gift of wisdom and encouragement to name a few.  Generations of families that build “homes in which we laugh and love” continue to love and grow, no matter the circumstances in the world. This is perhaps the greatest lesson I take from Family Camp this year, a lesson that communicates God’s providence and love.

Thank you Terri and Jim for organizing a wonderful week, Tim Hartman for the funny and insightful messages, Liz and Andy for the music time, Nadine for fabulous meals…and all those who helped make such a memorable weekend for so many families.

Let Them Play for Academic Success

Did you know the United Nations has actually stated that “every child has the right to play”? I don’t disagree, but I would go a step further. More than simply a “right” to play, our children have a biological need to play; and parents have an intuitive desire of their children’s need to play.

Why do children “need” to play? Because play promotes healthy development. A review of the research suggests that play helps children develop knowledge and understanding through hands-on activities. It increases their attention span and their productivity, both of which benefit their academic success.

The same review revealed that play helps our children develop emotionally and socially as well. Play allows them to practice social skill like cooperation, communication, sharing, and problem-solving. It allows them to role-play, safely experimenting with their identity development. And it provides a safe and effective avenue for relieving and managing stress. One child development expert even said that play “makes a child a head taller than himself” in regard to maturity.

The researchers of this review also noted that play helps children develop movement and motor skills. Physical, social, emotional, and mental development—play helps in all these areas.

Another interesting study about play published in 2011 explored the impact of an afterschool physical activity program for 170 seven- to eleven-year-old children. They discovered that physical activity (AKA-play), improved the children’s “cognitive performance.” In other words, physical activity led to greater academic success. In addition, those who engaged in 40 minutes of activity did better than those engaged in only 20 minutes of activity.

What does this all mean for our families? Quite simply, if you want your children to achieve to their full potential in school, let them have time to play with other children. Sure, academics is important. But if you want your children to focus better during school, perform better in the classroom, and develop better thinking skills, encourage them to play. Let your children play so they can have greater academic success. And, as an added bonus, spend some time wisely playing with them. You’ll both love it!

After-School Exhaustion: What Does It Mean?

Another school year has arrived. As we start the new year, I am reminded of parents and students telling me about their after-school struggles. One struggle in particular comes to mind—the struggle of after-school exhaustion. A student comes home from school and suddenly feels exhausted, physically and emotionally drained. There are chores to do and homework to complete, but they don’t want to do anything but sleep.

Before you think this is a sign that your child is lazy, consider the results of studies published in Current Biology on August 1, 2022. These studies “used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to monitor brain chemistry over the course of a workday.” The findings suggest that thinking hard (aka—doing challenging cognitive tasks) over several hours produces fatigue through a buildup of glutamate in the brain. Rest and sleep are essential to eliminate this excess. In other words, the mental exercise of attending school and focusing on academic work all day may actually bring a child to a state of mental fatigue. And mental fatigue is a signal that we need stop working and rest. If we ignore that signal, we will likely shift toward investing little effort and accepting short-term rewards for that effort. In a practical sense, that means doing shoddy work (whether on chores or homework) just to say it’s finished.

What can you and your child do to overcome this mental exhaustion? Here are 2 simple suggestions.

  • Allow your child some down-time to rest after school. Don’t become harsh or critical because you assume your child is lazy and telling them so. Accept that they may have worked hard all day and need a break. A 20-minute power nap can do wonders.
  • Establish a positive bedtime routine to encourage a good night’s sleep. A good night’s sleep is important to our mental and physical health. It may not prevent after-school exhaustion, but it will help promote more success in with school and overall health.

6 Ways to Teach Your Children Respect

It seems as though disrespect is rampant in our world today. We see it every day. But I believe that if we intentionally open our eyes and look, we also find respect alive and well in our world. And we want to keep respect alive and well… growing more prominent in our world. To make that happen, we teach our children to show respect. We encourage them to add their own respectful actions and words into our world.

Fortunately, teaching our children respect is not the world’s duty. The world displays too much disrespect to make it a good teacher. No, teaching respect to our children is our duty; and the lessons begins at home through the creation of a respectful home environment. How do we build an environment of respect in our homes? Here are 6 ways to get you started.

  1. Speak politely. Say “thank you” and “please.” Use a polite tone of voice, even when you want to request that another person change their behavior or when you want to voice a complaint about some inappropriate behavior. An environment of respect is filled with expressions gratitude and appreciation, compliments and encouragements. Building a home environment of respect involves speaking politely.
  2. Listen respectfully. Listening is an act of great respect…and it involves more than just responding. So don’t interrupt. Listen carefully. Allow family members to complete their thoughts before responding. Listen attentively to understand and make sure you understand before you respond.
  3. Make requests respectfully. It’s easy to shout across the room to make a request or demand some change of behavior. But that does not show respect. And it’s ineffective. To sit at the table and yell across the room demanding our children quit arguing is disrespectful. So is yelling from our seat in front of the TV for our spouse to get us a drink. It is much more respectful to get up and approach our family member, asking them for what we want in a calm voice.
  4. Allow autonomy whenever possible. Let your children dress themselves, even if they like wearing pants that don’t match their shirt. Allow your spouse to have an opinion different than yours …and appreciate their opinion enough to learn about it and allow it to influence you. Approach the differences with love, knowing that differences of opinion and taste do not represent a personal affront. They represent our unique perspectives and personalities. Allowing differences and autonomy reveals respect for our individual differences of opinions and tastes. It helps establish an environment of respect.  
  5. When you see a family member acting disrespectfully, correct their behavior… respectfully.   Begin by identifying the underlying contributors to their disrespectful behavior. Were they emotionally hurt? Did they feel treated unfairly? Were they acting impulsively? Were they asserting their will? Have they started a habit of disrespect? Knowing the underlying contributors to their behavior allows you to respond in a more respectful and effective way. Take a moment to teach them how to meet the need that undergirded the disrespect. Teach them the impact of disrespect on their relationships and importance of respect for healthy relationships. Do it respectfully.
  6. Most importantly, realize that our children will “catch respect” more readily than they will be “taught respect.” Set the example of respect. Let them see you treating them and others with respect. Let the respectful environment begin with you.

I’m sure you can think of more ways to teach your children to act respectfully. Write your tips in the comment section below. We can all benefit from one another’s knowledge.

The Internet: Is It a Risk or an Opportunity for Your Child? YES!!

Let’s face it. The cyberworld, with all its knowledge, gaming, social media, and videos has taken up residence in our homes…and it’s here to stay.

Some families respond to the cyberworld with fear…and rightly so. It is filled with risk.

Other families respond to the cyberworld with joy and anticipation…and rightly so. It is filled with opportunities.

In fact, the cyberworld has both risks and opportunities, just like every other facet of life that our children encounter. I love the graphic on page 8 of this presentation. It shows the risk and opportunity of both the cyberworld and the non-cyberworld. YouTube presents risks and opportunities in a similar fashion as movies, twitter as the social gathering at a park, amazon as a bookstore, and so forth. Perhaps two of the biggest differences between the spaces being compared in this graphic are how familiar we, as parents, are with each one and how easily we can shelter our children from the risks while affording them the opportunities. Nonetheless, they both carry risks and opportunities.

What can a parent do to limit the risks of the cyberworld while affording their children the chance to enjoy the opportunities? The first thing to do is to educate yourself about the cyberworld as best you can.

  • Talk with your children about various social media sites, games, or video cites. I don’t mean educate them. Let them educate you. I talked with young man last week who talked about several groups focused on improving society through their Facebook or YouTube accounts.  
  • Engage the cyberworld with your child. Play some games with them. Watch videos together. Share videos with one another. As you learn about social media, interact with our children via social media.
  • Learn firsthand about the cyberworld and its “draw.” As you do, share with your children what you learn and how you have established personal boundaries to maintain the cyberworld as a tool in our life rather than letting it become your “master.”

As with so many aspects of parenting, the best way to teach our children is to begin by being a good role model. Let them see you manage the cyberworld in a healthy manner. Let them see how you limit the risk and emphasize the opportunities. It’s only a beginning, but a great beginning it is!

Parenting: A Christ-Like Vocation

I read an interesting quote about parenting that made me to stop and ponder.

“There is no other thing you do in life only that the person you do it for can leave you. When they leave, that is success; when they do something because they want to do it and not because you want them to do it, then you have done your job. You succeed when you make yourself irrelevant, when you lose yourself.” (Keith Gessen in Raising Raffi)

It’s true. Raising a child is one of the most rewarding opportunities a person can ever experience. It is also a challenge. It’s bittersweet; and it’s beautiful. Becoming a parent compels us to become a better person. In fact, becoming a parent may well prove one of the most influential ways of shaping us in godly, Christ-like character.

If you’ve gone to Sunday School, I’m sure you heard that a “person who seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will be saved.” Parents invest their time and energy into their children. Rather than invest solely in their own interests and pleasures, they invest in their children’s growth and enjoyment. In a sense, parents quit seeking to save their own life and start investing in their children’s lives. They focus on their children’s lives and, in so doing, find their own joy and happiness in watching their children become mature and responsible adults.

Parents serve their children with no expectation of being served in return. Sure, children contribute to the household in age determined ways. But parents encourage them to contribute to the household so they can mature and grow into responsible adults, not so they can serve their parents. In fact, most chores would likely go faster and more efficiently if a parent did them on their own rather than allow their 8-year-old to help. But we encourage the 8-year-old to help because we are in service to their development and maturation.  Parents serve their children by providing for their physical, emotional, and mental needs. It’s as if we came into parenthood to serve, not to be served.

Serving and investing in our children’s lives results in sacrifice. Not only do parents sacrifice time and energy, but they sacrifice a new set of clothes to get their children school clothes. They sacrifice the last piece of chicken so their child can have it. They sacrifice willingly and lovingly, out of a desire for their children’s best interest above their own. And they sacrifice without complaint. Many don’t even recognize their parents’ sacrifices for us until we are older and have a more mature perspective. But parents continue to sacrifice anyway.

Then, perhaps the greatest sacrifice of all, we let them go. They leave. They no longer need us. We have “made ourselves irrelevant.” As harsh as this sounds, isn’t it what Christ did when, “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant”?  He emptied Himself, made Himself of no reputation, became “irrelevant” according to worldly standards. Yet, it was through that giving up of Himself that He brought us into His loving family as children of God. Perhaps it’s because parents give themselves up for their children that their children become mature and are then able to truly return a deeper, truer love to their parent.  

Investing in another more than myself. Serving another’s needs more than my own needs. Sacrificing for the good of another. Sounds like a parent. Sounds like growing in godly character. Sounds like love. If you will pardon my paraphrase: parents “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard their children as more important than themselves; [they] do not merely look out for their own personal interests, but also for the interests of their children” (adapted from Paul, Philippians 2:3-4).

How Does Your Family Feel About Emotions?

I’m a behavioral health therapist. You know, a “how-do-you-feel-about-that” kind of guy. But truth be told, I’m not one who exhibits deep displays of emotion. I feel them, but I don’t express them loudly.

I’m also the father of two daughters. If you happen to have daughters, you know how emotive they can be during their growing years. At times I was simply overwhelmed by their display of excitement, hurt, joy, or sadness. So, I had a couple of choices. How would I respond to their emotions? How would I model treating emotions in my family?

I could teach my daughters that emotions are too much to manage. They aren’t safe to express. I could encourage them through my actions and words to push their emotions down, muffle them, deny them, keep them bottled up. “Stop crying. You have nothing to cry about.” In other words, I could encourage them to repress their emotions. But simply repressing emotions has a way of transforming into hiding emotions under overworking, drinking too much, obsessive scrolling, simply disappearing from the lives of others, or…any number of other negative behaviors. That’s no good.

Or I could teach them that emotional expression is simply “bad.”  In my own sense of being overwhelmed, I could yell at them for being “too loud,” “too much trouble,” or “out-of-control.” I could aggressively shut them down with critical name-calling or threats of harsh punishment. But then they’ll just internalize those harsh criticisms about themselves and others. They’ll follow the example of holding emotions in until they bubble over in aggressive words and actions of their own. No. that is not what I want my daughters to learn.

Or, perhaps the best choice, I could teach my children that emotions are welcome. They present us with information we need to take care of ourselves, even the sad and angry emotions. So, I could make sure that emotions are welcome in our home. I could accept them, all of them. I could listen to them deeply to understand their message…and so teach my children to listen deeply as well. I could hold their emotions in a welcoming, accepting environment. In the process, my daughters will learn that they are loved and accepted, even when sad or angry or overwhelmingly excited. That acceptance and love, combined with their parents’ attentive ear, builds the internal resources they need to manage those emotions independently. That sounds like a great place to start.

The choice is made…a “no-brainer” really. I’m going to allow emotions, welcoming and accepting each one. And, in the holding of their emotions in a welcoming, accepting environment, my children will learn to express their emotions in a safe way. No. I won’t be perfect. Nobody is. But making this choice provides the best goal, an ideal that’s worth striving for. Will you make the same choice for your children and your family?

What Did I Just Do?

My daughters were upstairs…arguing…loudly. I hate arguing. And I hate loud. Still, I waited in hopes they would resolve their disagreement without my intervention.  But they continued to argue and yell. The longer they yelled, the more my irritation grew. After what seemed like an eternity (probably only 1-2 minutes in reality), I stomped to the bottom of the stairs and yelled, “Stop the yelling. We don’t yell in this house!” As soon as I heard the words leave my mouth, I shook my head. Did I just yell at my children to stop yelling? That’s just wrong on so many levels.

  • Yelling didn’t model the behavior I wanted them to see. What else can I say about this? Yelling is bad modeling…unless you want children that yell to get their point across.
  • Yelling prevents learning. Our children, like people in general, enter into the “fight or flight” mode when someone yell at them, even if that someone is a parent. In the “fight or flight” mode, a person focuses on self-protection and, as a result, really can’t learn. Their learning is frozen in fear and all their internal resources are mobilized for self-protection. There is no learning or rational thought, only the buzz and frazzle of confused self-protection.
  • Yelling sabotages our parent-child relationship. It severs the connection between you and your child and replaces it with fearful self-protection. It scrambles your child’s brain, interfering with their ability to relate. Remember, the parent-child relationship forms the foundation of effective parenting. After all, rules without relationship leads to rebellion.
  • Yelling plugs up our children’s ears. It teaches them that they don’t really have to listen until we yell. A simple, quiet request goes unheeded when yelling is our general practice. They have learned to not listen until they hear you yell. 
  • Yelling models disrespect and we want our children to learn respect. Children, like all people, deserve our respect, even during discipline.

It’s true. I yelled at my children to stop yelling. Not one of my finer parenting moments. Fortunately, I caught my discrepancy and my children, like all children, are extremely gracious. They allowed room for “do-over.” I walked up the stairs and went into the room where they argued. We took a moment to talk about their argument, my yelling, and the fact that we really “don’t want to yell in this house.” Another moment to resolve their disagreement, at least to my satisfaction, and life returned to normal. Next time I opened my mouth to yell up the stairs at my children, I remembered that day and smiled. Then I walked up the stairs. Even before I got to the top of the stairs, my children started arguing more quietly and with greater civility. I smiled. Maybe we were all learning after all.

Secretly Exercise Your Child’s Patience This Summer

Do you wish your child had more patience? If you’re like me, you probably wish you had more patience too. We could all use a little more patience. Here’s the good news. You can increase your patience and help your child increase their patience at the same time… all while you’re having fun! It won’t even seem like you’re practicing those patience muscles. But you will. And did I say? It’s fun! Here are 6 activities that can help you and your child increase your patience this summer.

  • Plant a garden. It takes time for a seed to germinate, sprout, grow, blossom, produce fruit, and ripen. Nurturing and watching it go through this process promotes patience. So, plant a vegetable garden, flower garden, or herb garden. Plant a tree. Plant it and watch it grow.
  • Bake together. Baking also takes time and patience. You have to gather the ingredients, mix the ingredients, prepare the pan, bake your cake (bread, pie, or pastry), let it cool, and, best of all, eat it.  Depending on what you bake, you may have to add time for the dough to rise as well. All this provides practice in patience with a reward of a very delicious treat.
  • Play games. Many games promote patience. In board games or card games we practice patience while waiting our turn. Chess involves waiting even longer while your opponent considers options. Games like “Simon Says” promotes patience as well as listening. So play a game and practice those patience muscles.
  • Build a model. I don’t hear about children building models as much as I used to. But, you can imagine the patience needed to sort the pieces and carefully follow the instructions to put them together properly before painting the assembled model. When you’re done, show it off.
  • Complete a puzzle. My wife and children loved doing puzzles. (I didn’t have the patience, lol.)  Puzzles promote patience as you sort the pieces before looking for just the right piece to fill the empty space. You also get to enjoy spending time together as you complete it. Perhaps the one who shows the most patience can fit the final piece into place. 
  • Paint by numbers. You can get a simple paint by number or a more complex paint by number. Both will promote patience as you carefully follow the instructions, using the correct color to match the number and then waiting for one color to dry before using colors that border it. After patiently completing the project, however, you have a beautiful picture to display.

I love ideas that help promote patience in such simple, natural, and fun ways. They allow our children (and us) to learn without even knowing it. And, I have to say it again—it’s fun. So, practice patience and have fun at the same time this summer.

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