Tag Archive for role model

What Do You Really Want for Your Children?

I hate to say it, but parents have a huge responsibility. A tremendous burden rests on our shoulders. The future of our world depends on the priorities and values we instill in our children. I mean, it’s true but I didn’t think about that kind of responsibility when my wife and I decided to have children. But we quickly came to realize the need to take that responsibility seriously. We had to ask ourselves what values we really want to instill in our children. We needed to assess what we really want our children to learn. We had to nurture and teach our children to enable them to “see the big picture.”  Here are some of the questions we ask of ourselves. What are your answers?

  • Do we want our children to learn that the most important aspect of life is to win at any cost or do we want them to play the game while encouraging and supporting even the competition?
  • Do we want our children to learn to “get over on the system” or to live with integrity and honesty while working to change the system?
  • Do we want our children to pursue their own interests to the neglect of others or to pursue their interests while remaining aware, respectful, and encouraging of other peoples’ interests as well?
  • Do we want our children to fight for “my rights” or to have a more expansive view that also considers the rights of others and balancing the rights of all through service and sacrifice?
  • Do we want our children to get rich or to share with those who have genuine need?
  • Do we want our children to work to the neglect of relationship or to work to gain the resources they can use to build relationships?
  • Do we want our children to worry about the future at the expense of enjoying the moment or to prepare for the future while enjoying the moment? In fact, to even believe that how we enjoy the moment shapes our future!
  • Do we want our children to learn that “my” job or interests is most important and prestigious or to learn that everyone’s jobs and interests carry importance, prestige, and an amazing set of knowledge not everyone shares?
  • Do we want our children to learn that “my” opinion is best or to develop a genuine interest and respect in other people’s ideas and opinions, even if you disagree?

You cannot NOT teach your children these values. In your everyday words and actions, you teach your children these values.  They learn them from what you say and what you do, how you treat them and how you treat one another. Consider the values you want them to learn. Then start living them out in your daily life today!

My Children are Copy Cats…Now What?

My father worked as a chaplain in a nursing home. I often volunteered there on Sundays. One Sunday, while walking down the hall, a patient said, “You walk just like your father.”

My daughter came home from college to tell a story about combing her hair (don’t worry, there’s a point). As she adjusted her bangs, she realized (much to her dismay) that she was adjusting her bangs “exactly like my dad does!”

The point is: children imitate their parents. They don’t even try. They just do it. From the mundane to the exceptional, the subtle to the obvious, children imitate their parents. What parent hasn’t experienced their four-year-old saying something at the most inopportune moment that highlights their keen observation skills and unparalleled ability to imitate our behaviors? We often tell funny and embarrassing stories about such moments; but, why not use this phenomenon to our advantage? If our children are going to be copy cats, why not give them something good to copy?  For instance, I would love it if the copy cats in my house would copy these behaviors.

  1. Thanking the person who prepared the food and complimenting them about something they prepared.
  2. Saying a prayer before each meal and at bedtime.
  3. Turning off the TV, video game, or social media and giving your full attention to your spouse, child, or parent when they talk to us.
  4. Offering sincere compliments to your spouse, children, and parents.
  5. Laughing often.
  6. Practicing polite acts of kindness such as holding the door open for other people.
  7. Offering to get another person a snack or drink.
  8. Rinsing your dish and putting it in the dishwasher. Unloading the dishwasher without complaining.
  9. Doing every household chore with a smile and a sense of gratitude.
  10. Treating cashiers, clerks, wait staff, and others with polite respect.
  11. Calmly discussing what upsets you rather than “flying off the handle” or “freaking out.”
  12. Trying something new like a new food or a new activity.
  13. Really listening.
  14. Stopping to smell the roses, watching the sunset, listening to the music, or some other activity in which you appreciate beauty. Sharing it with your family.

That’s 14 behaviors the little copy cats can copy all they want! But, that does mean we have to practice them. What other behaviors do you want your little copy cats to copy?

Driving Children or Leading Children

I read that General Eisenhower would demonstrate the art of leadership with a piece of string. After laying the string on a table, he would say, “Notice what happens when I pull the string; it goes wherever I lead it. Now watch what happens when I push the string; it goes nowhere at all—that’s assault, not leadership.” What a great quote on leadership…and parenting! Many parents drive their children rather than lead their children. Consider just three differences.


military policeProdding them or inspiring them. Parents who drive their children push them, cajole them, and prod them to produce, accomplish, and succeed. They often express dissatisfaction with a less than stellar performance. Parents who lead do so by example. Leading implies going ahead of them to show the way. A parent’s leadership will inspire children to follow in their parent’s footsteps. If you want your children to eat a healthy diet and exercise, do so yourself. If you want your children to exhibit respect, be polite yourself. Say “please” and “thank you” to them and others. Let them hear you say polite words often. If you want your children to go to church, enjoy going yourself. You get the idea. When parents drive their children, they push them into the unknown alone. A parent who leads goes before their child into that unknown. A parent who guides goes with their child into that unknown. Both leading and guiding create a sense of safety for children. Our children learn from our example, not our constant prodding and pushing. So, quit prodding and inspire them instead…take the lead.


Laying down the law or studying the book. Parents who drive their children focus on the rules. They lay down the law and demand compliance. Rules keep us on the straight and narrow, away from the evil influences around us. But, an overabundance of rules and a focus on the rules will send a message of distrust in your children, their knowledge of right behavior, their desire to behave appropriately, and their ability to do so. A focus on rules may also force children to break the rules just to establish their own independence. Parents who lead focus on relationship. Sure they have rules but they focus on a relationship with their children. They have become a student of their children. They constantly learn about their children’s interests, friends, fears, vulnerabilities, dreams, etc. Parents who lead have an unquenchable thirst to know their children. Out of that knowledge, a parent can lead, motivate, and inspire their children to be their best.


Running away or running to. Parents who drive their children establish a strong authoritarian presence. Their children often respond to the authoritarian demands and expectations in one of two ways: rebellion or withdrawal. When children have parents who drive them, they shrink away from their parents’ voice. Demands and rules cause children to shrink away in fear.  Authoritarian expectations cause children to shrink into a shell, withdrawing for fear of failure and never being good enough to meet their parents’ expectations and so please them.  Children may also rebel in the face of the excessive demands and expectations of authoritarian parents. In order to “become their own person,” they have to rebel. Parents who lead establish a strong authority based on relationship. Their children rise up to their parents’ voice. They respond with confidence to the family expectation. They feel known and valued so they act more responsibly and respectfully.


We could go on, but let me ask you: do you drive your children or lead them? Do you push them into the unknown or lead them by example? Do you focus primarily on “laying down the law” or on “building a relationship” of mutual trust and respect…or both? Does your voice and presence cause your children to shrink or grow? Pull the string, don’t push it. Take the lead!

Get Your Child’s Head in the Game with MEATT

Parents like to see their children perform well. Who am I kidding? I like to see my children perform well. In fact, if you are like me, you may get more nervous than your children do when they get out on the field for the big game or up on stage for the first act. We want pianothem to experience success. That success, however, begins long before they walk onto the field or stage. It begins even before practice starts. Our children’s performance success begins with their mindset…and their mindset begins with us! How we encourage and praise our children helps develop a mindset that promotes success or a mindset that promotes fear and anxiety. Praise that focuses on innate, natural talent promotes a fear of failure. If our praise voices a belief that genetics or natural talent made our child the excellent performer, we have raised the ante on performance anxiety. I know it sounds paradoxical; but, if I think my talent is inherited, “just who I am,” or a natural ability, I may believe that failure simply shows the limit of my ability. Rather than face that limit, I might underperform. I might stick with what I know I can already do and not risk reaching the limit of my ability and the start of my failure. Praise that focuses on natural talent creates anxiety and teaches our children to underperform. When they experience failure (which we all will) or finds themselves struggling (which we all do), they may believe they have reached the limit of their ability and quit…since other kids seem to have more ability now. Broad, generic statements like “You are really smart (or talented or good)” will have a similar result.


On the other hand, when we send a clear message that we value effort more than achievement, we promote success. Studies suggest successful people, even elite performers, have at least four things in common:

  1. They practice hard and they practice deliberately.
  2. They practice consistently.
  3. They practice consistently over the long-term in spite of any experience of failure or temporary setback. In fact, they come to see failure as a key factor in their growth.
  4. They believe that persistent effort will bring success.


Notice what each of these factors have in common: practice, effort, and hard-work! When we teach our children to believe that hard-work and effort (not simply natural talent) reveals the true extent of their ability, we have helped them get their head in the game. When we let our children know we value effort more than achievement, and practice more than perfection, we help them get their head in the game. So, here are five ways we can send the message (he real “M.E.A.T.T.” of teaching our children the importance of effort) that effort is more important than the final product.

  • Model working hard toward a goal and enjoying your work toward a goal. Children learn a lot by watching us!
  • Encourage your children to persist in reaching their goals. John Hayes, a cognitive psychologist, found great composers, athletes, and artists had a “decade of silence” in their field before reaching success. This “decade of silence” was filled with practice…practice…and more practice. Effort!
  • Acknowledge the effort your children exert in reaching a goal. Rather than simply praising the finished product or performance, let them know you recognize their effort and enjoy watching that effort pay off. “You put a lot of effort into learning that and it really paid off today.” “I can tell you worked hard on that picture/song/pitch. It’s very cool.”
  • Teach your children how to practice deliberately. This might include breaking the final goal into multiple steps, breaking a task into component parts and practicing each part individually. This also includes slowing down, practicing specific skills, and getting feedback.
  • Teach your children to have fun! Add variety to their practice to avoid boredom. Let part of the practice involve aspects your children really enjoy. Work hard and have fun!


Give your children the MEATT of effort and you will find their persistence improves and, as a result, their performance will improve. They will have their head in the game.

But I Really Neeeeed Them!

I remember standing in a checkout line behind a mother and her preschool age son. As they waited their turn, her son examined the candy shelves. His eyes lit up when he saw gummy bears. He turned to his mother to ask if she would buy them for him. She shook her head “no” but he persisted. She calmly looked at him and said, “Not today honey. We are not going to get any gummy bears today.” As disappointment filled his eyes, he pleaded in a voice that would make any salesman proud, “But Mom, I neeeeeed them!” I believed him. That young man had a dire need for gummy bears. The fact is, our children do have dire needs, albeit not for gummy bears (although I can understand that need myself). What are a child’s greatest needs?
     ·         Children need unconditional love from their parent. Children need their parents to invest the time necessary to build and maintain a deep relationship with them. This unconditional love and connection provides a sense of security for children. And, security allows them to explore, learn, and grow more competent. Our children need our unconditional love.

·         Children need to be heard. In fact, listening attentively to children is more important than anything we can actually say. Listening lets a child know that we value them. Listening also allows a parent to know their children: how they think, what they like, what they fear.  Ultimately, listening allows a parent to learn who their children are. Our children need us to listen attentively to them.

·         Children need a positive example to follow. The first and most powerful example children will follow is the example of their parents. Children learn more from observing their parents’ daily actions than they ever learn from our words of wisdom and experience. They will do as we do before they do as we say. Determine what kind of person you want your child to become and then become that person yourself. Clear the path for your child by setting the example yourself.

·         Children need to know we believe in them. One way they know we believe in them is when we stop hovering and trust them to accomplish the challenges set before them. They also learn that we believe in them when we entrust real responsibility to them, whether that be chores around the house, a part-time job, spending their own birthday money, or helping us with a household job. Let your children know you believe in and trust their ability.

·         Children need us to get out of their way so they can learn from their own experience. I don’t mean that parents should let their children stray into dangerous situations. However, sometimes we need to get out of the way. Let them experience the consequences of their mistakes and the joys of their success. Let them struggle through the difficulties of a challenging task or assignment. Let them learn what they can control and in what areas they need assistance. Children need us to stop hovering so they have the freedom to learn and grow on their own.
Children easily express their need for gummy bears, but they may have difficulty expressing the five needs discussed above. Nonetheless, they will find a way to have these needs met. They may assert their independence to make us “get out of the way” or nag us to be heard. You may even find them acting out behaviors and words they have seen in you that you find embarrassing. But, one way or another, they will express these needs and push to have them met. Why not take this year to meet these five needs in a positive way? Make it your goal for the coming year to provide for these needs in your children. They “really neeeed them!”

Parents: Sowing & Reaping

“You reap what you sow.” I was thinking about this ancient saying the other day. We often tell our children to be careful what they sow because it will come back around to them in the reaping. In other words, there are natural consequences to our actions—a good lesson for our children to learn. But, parents can learn from this saying as well, especially in regards to how we treat our children. Think about it, we “reap what we sow.” Our children pick up everything we do and say. Worse yet, they repeat everything we say and do…good or bad. I have noticed that children not only repeat what their parents say or do, but they do so with little to no restraint. For instance, an adult may limit their swearing to times when they are very angry. But their preschooler hears that curse word and repeats it indiscriminately, without restraint, at the worst times, in the most inopportune moment. On the positive side, imagine a child watching you engage in acts of kindness or generosity and then practicing those virtues with abandon. Or picture your child overhearing you energetically speaking highly of others and doing the same. “You reap what you sow.”
I read a Jewish folktale in which a father kicks the grandfather out of their home. The grandfather roams the streets as a homeless beggar. One cold night, he sees his grandson playing in the yard. He explains who he is and asks for a blanket. The grandson runs into the house and asks his father for a blanket to give the old man. His father sends him to the attic to get one. When the grandson does not quickly return, his father goes in search of him and finds him cutting a blanket in half. “Why are you doing?” his father asks. “I am cutting the blanket in half, Father, so that I can give half to my grandfather. I am going to keep the other half for you. When you grow old and go out to beg in the cold, I’ll give you this part of the blanket to keep you warm,” the son replied. The father was stunned…but he realized that he was reaping what he had sown. It’s a “cat’s in the cradle” sort of thing.
The moral of the story: parents reap what they sow.  How do you want your children to “turn out”? How do you want them to behave? What character do you want them to develop? Begin to model that character today because your children are watching, learning, copying, and practicing…and we will “reap what we sow.”

Teaching Your Child Perspective Taking

Children are not born with the ability to see the world through another person’s eyes. They have to learn to take another person’s perspective. If they do not learn this, they grow intolerant, self-centered, and uncaring. How can a parent help their children develop the ability to see various situations from another person’s perspective? Here are 4 suggestions:
  • Model perspective taking in your life. Begin by modeling perspective taking in your relationship with your child. Take the time to see things from your child’s perspective. Allow your child to explain his point of view and then accept that point of view. His point of view may sound magical or immature–after all, he is a child. You may even disagree with his perspective, but accept it before you discuss it. As your child matures, use everyday situations to point out other people’s perspectives. For instance, discuss how friends might perceive something your child said or did, how teachers might perceive various students’ behavior, or how siblings might view an event differently than he does. Let your child explore and express various ideas without judgment, especially in his teen years. Definitely add your ideas into the mix and express your perspective, but do so without judging the ideas and values that he expresses. 
  • Explore the perspective of fictional characters. Start reading stories with your children when they are young. As they mature, discuss stories that you both read. In particular, discuss the characters in the story and their perspective of the situations they encounter. Explore how the story characters might feel, what circumstances and thoughts contribute to those feelings, and what resources the characters might use to deal with those feelings. Help your child develop an understanding of how that character’s perspective contributes to their actions and emotions. You can do this with movie characters as well. Engaging in these talks allows your child to begin to explore the perspective of another person, even if it is a fictional story character. 
  • Have some fun with perspective taking. I often play a game of “Happy, Mad, & Sad” with children at work. It is like “Paper, Scissors, & Rock;” but, instead of using hand signals, we make a happy face, a mad face, or a sad face. I score by saying happy beats sad, sad beats mad, and mad beats happy. It does not really matter which emotion beats the others, only that you get to practice seeing the expression on one another’s face—an important skill for perspective taking. You can also enjoy some people watching in a mall or park. Observe people walking by and quietly make up little stories about the character’s life and emotions. Fill the story with supporting observations. For instance, “those two just met in the ice cream shop because they still have their cones. They are walking in step with one another and smiling when they look at one another, so they have fallen deeply in love”…or “they walk in step with one another because they are both marching band members and can no longer walk out of sync…” Play a game while driving in which you name as many reasons as possible for why a car sped by or why another driver cut you off in traffic. Make note that each reason is merely a guess and an assumption, but represents a possible perspective of the other person. And, the perspective we focus on can lead to our becoming angry (“that jerk did that on purpose”), compassionate (“I hope they are not running to an emergency”), or cautious (“did they just fall asleep and drift into my lane?”). Remember, there is often more than one possible reason for a person’s behavior, more than one possible perspective. Encourage your child to consider those perspectives, even if they do not agree with them.
  • Finally, as your child experiences various circumstances in life, talk to him about the perspective of others in that situation as well. When you witness a commotion in a restaurant, help them observe not just the commotion but how those around the commotion respond. After watching a close football game, observe the winning team’s demeanor and the losing team’s demeanor. Watch the interviews with both teams and talk about each person’s response. When your child has a fight with a sibling, help him observe the impact on his siblings and you.
That is just 4 ideas to help teach your child perspective taking. You can practice each idea in your daily life, without even looking like you are teaching anything! By helping your child grow in their ability to take another person’s perspective, they will grow more understanding, accepting, and considerate. They will show more empathy and compassion toward those around them. They will mature, growing into adults with a strong character!

3 Ways Parents Shape Their Children’s Mind

Children learn from everything their parents do and say. That is a bold and rather frightening statement; but, it is true. Parents cannot not teach, lead, and guide their children. Children are watching, listening, and learning from their parents every moment of every day. Children learn to show politeness, express gratitude, and practicing kindness by watching their parents do the same. Unfortunately, children also pick up language they hear their parents mumble under their breath in anger. They enact their parent’s most undesirable habits and practice them with little restraint. This constant learning extends beyond mere actions and words to include a child’s thought life as well. A parent’s words and actions influence how their children think about themselves, their abilities, their relationships. Think about that: a parent’s words and actions mold their children’s thought life which forms their children’s confidence, relationships, and self-concept…ultimately, their success. This is a huge responsibility. With the weight of that responsibility in mind, we, as parents and family shepherds, have to ask ourselves, “Do my words and actions instill beneficial, life-enhancing ways of thinking in my child or do they instill detrimental, hurtful patterns of thought in my child?” Here are 3 ways you, as your family’s shepherd, can guide your children to think in beneficial, life-enhancing ways.
     ·         Model life-enhancing thought patterns in your own life. Think out loud around your children and let them hear beneficial patterns of thought. Let them hear how you avoid “making a mountain out of a mole hill.” Let them experience you recognizing that a negative event is temporary not permanent. Acknowledge what is, and what is not, your responsibility in the midst of difficult situations. Give your children the opportunity to discover that your most common thoughts focus around things that are true, respectful, admirable, of good reputation, and praiseworthy. One of the most crucial times to model life-enhancing thought patterns centers on times of discipline. When you discipline misbehavior, make sure your words reflect a firm, but grace-filled, love. Practically speaking, this means no name-calling, focus on behavior not character, do not make the misbehavior bigger than necessary by lecturing or “going on and on,” and express faith in your child, that he can and will (and most likely has in the past) engage in the positive behaviors you desire.

·         Teach life-enhancing thought patterns in all situations. Talk to your children in difficult times, challenging times, and happy times to encourage thought patterns that promote humility, respect, love, and truth in each situation. When their team loses a game, teach them to think about what they can learn and how to improve. When their team wins a game, teach them to think about showing grace and respect to their opponent. When their mind reaches for the worst case scenario in the midst of a challenging situation, teach them to question that worst case and search for the reality of the situation instead. Teach your children to listen to their thoughts, investigate the evidence for their thoughts, question the usefulness of their thoughts, and consider any realistic alternatives for their thoughts.

·         Practice gratitude. Every night ask your children to name 3 events they experienced during the day for which they are grateful. Write them down; keep a list. Throughout the day, say “thank you” every chance you get. Tell your children “thank you” when they do something kind. Tell your spouse “thank you” for supper. Tell the stranger “thank you” for holding the door open, the waitress for bringing your food, the other driving for letting you into the line of traffic. Let gratitude permeate your language and your actions. Then it will permeate your children’s thoughts as well. The life-enhancing thought pattern of gratitude will become your children’s natural approach to life, their modus operandi. Is there any better way to live than to live with gratitude?
Parents cannot not teach, lead, and guide their children, even when it comes to patterns of thought. As you might imagine, teaching your children life-enhancing thought patterns will demand your time and attention, your best listening ear, a heart of patience, and a compassionate sensitivity…but, the results are well worth the effort.

Teaching Your Family to Laugh

I love the videos of laughing babies (Click Here to Watch). It’s contagious. It makes me laugh as well. I also love to watch my family laugh. It is contagious. When they laugh, I laugh with them…we all laugh together. Even more interesting, laughter is good for us! It boosts our immune system and fights disease. It relieves stress, depression, and anxiety. Laughter also improves attention and aids in memory. It lowers blood pressure, tones abdominal muscles, and burns calories. Wait, there’s more…. Laughter boosts self-confidence and gives us the mental strength needed to cope with life’s challenges. Laughter within the family connects us with one another and communicates an intimate comfort with one another. I love laughter. Some of my favorite memories involve my family engulfed in hysterical laughter. I cannot remember what we laughed about, only that we laughed together…naturally, candidly, and without restraint. This brings up one way to build intimacy, relieve tension, and remove anger in the family—engage in open, unbridled laughter together. Don’t know where to start? Try these suggestions:
     ·         Tell jokes. If you do not know any jokes, look some up on-line (Ducksters has Children’s jokes) or borrow a book from the library.
     ·         Recall funny events from your life. Share funny experiences from your childhood or teen years. Remember funny experiences you have shared as a family.

·         Share funny things you have encountered over the last couple days or weeks.

·         Model using humor in your own life. Let your family see you relieve a tense situation with humor, perhaps even making fun of your own shortcomings in the process. Humor and laughter provide a wonderful outlet for dealing with personal mistakes.

·         Be silly just for the fun of it. Use a funny voice. Make a funny face. Make up funny lyrics to a familiar tune. They do not have to make sense or be beautiful. They are, after all, meant to be silly, not serious; funny, not profound.

·         Let your family laugh at your mistakes and shortcomings now and again. Let them see that you do not take yourself too seriously. Life is too short to take too serious. Enjoy it, laugh.

·         One caveat to throw in here…differentiate between what is funny and what is hurtful when you tell a joke or funny story. Teach your children to do the same. Humor is meant to bring joy to all those present. Steer clear of humor that hurts or ridicules and enjoy humor that encourages or brings joy to everyone’s day.
There you go, 7 ways to nurture humor in the home. Now go tell a joke, share a giggle, and roll on the ground in laughter…together. It’s for your own good!

Do I Discipline or Sabotage?

My two daughters were upstairs arguing…yelling so loud I couldn’t even think. I tried to ignore them and let them work out this minor battle, but my frustration increased with the volume of their voices. Finally, I could take it no longer. I walked to the bottom of the stairs and yelled, “Stop the yelling. We don’t yell in this house!” As soon as I said it, it hit me. Did I just yell that we don’t yell in this house? I suddenly realized that my actions gave a different message than my words—my means did not match the ends I desired. I had to laugh…then I had to walk up the stairs to talk with my daughters about yelling in the house. I look back and laugh now, but how often do we reach for an end by using the wrong means? How often do we use methods that actually sabotage our disciplinary goal? Think about it…
     ·         We rudely reprimand our children in front of everyone for being impolite. I’ve even heard parents swear at their children and call them names for being impolite. Wouldn’t it model politeness if we quietly and politely told them to stop the impolite behavior and took them aside to explain more appropriate behavior if they persist?
     ·         We tell our children to “use your words” when angry, but grab them and physically force them to look at us when we are frustrated. Couldn’t we find a way of using our words in such a situation?
     ·         We encourage teens to think for themselves when confronted with peer pressure, but keep talking in an effort to convince them of our opinion if they do not agree with us. How often could we safely tell them one time and let them learn from their mistakes? Or, even accept that they might have different ideas than we do?
     ·         We insist on the truth, but ask them “if they did so and so” when we know the answer, setting them up to tell a lie in order to save face. Why not just tell them what we know?
     ·         We assume the worst of our children, even if that behavior is outside their normal character, while encouraging them to trust us.
All in all, the method of discipline needs to match the goal we desire. The style of discipline we use has to match the goal of our the discipline or we will be ineffective. Children learn more from our actions than our desires and our speeches. If we want our children and teens to become polite and compassionate adults, we need to discipline with politeness and compassion rather than rudeness and insensitivity. If we want our children to become more self-controlled and thoughtful, we need to model self-control and thoughtfulness in our interactions with them. I needed to walk up the stairs and talk to my daughters about their volume, not throw my yelling into the mix when I try to “stop the yelling.” We, as parents and family shepherds, need to model the behaviors we want our children to learn, even in the midst of discipline.
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