Category Archives: Parenting

The 10 Most Important Things to Do When Taking Your Kids Camping

img_1457Last year, I read Theodore Rex, a biography of Teddy Roosevelt. Amongst the many things that stood out to me in the life of that great man was that he took his children camping almost every night while staying at his vacation home. This was a man who was the leader of the free world, a world class intellectual, and a war hero. He was not too busy or too important to sleep under the stars with his children. I am willing to wager that for all the great things that Teddy was, his kids valued that time spent with him more than anything else. As dads, we often get distracted by our work, our hobbies, and our comforts; all to the detriment of the time we spend with our kids. Putting forth the effort to create special times with them is important. It is when the real impact of our parenting will blossom. Camping is a unique way to do this, because it takes us out of our comfort zone and away from our distraction, forcing us to pay attention to each other. For a child, camping with dad is a great adventure and a privilege. Here are a few of the things I have learned from camping with my kids.

  • You are the most important part of the equation! Last weekend, I had hoped to take the kids camping in the backyard. I’ve been anxiously awaiting my first chance at camping with the kids since January. However, 3 days of heavy rain changed that plan. So, I set up the tent in the living room and we camped indoors. They loved it and I learned something important.
    I am the most important part of the camping experience. I don’t say that to be arrogant. Rather, I realized that the kids, more than anything else, wanted to spend time with me. The prospect of sleeping on the floor with me was pretty exciting. Going to exotic locations, doing crazy things, and planning perfect outdoor experiences are all important, especially as the kids get older, but the single most important component is spending time with dad. That will be the part they remember for the long haul. You don’t have to be an expert outdoorsman to make the experience memorable. You just have to be there.
  • Don’t let the weather stop you. Over the past weekend, rain forced us indoors. I’ve been camping with teenagers
    from work in the past, when it rained for 4 of the 6 days we were in the woods. Instead of enjoying the great outdoors, we played cards in the tent, talked, listened to thunder and wind, learned to build fires in a downpour, read, and had a different brand of fun. The perfect experience isn’t found only when the conditions are perfect. Perfect experiences are had when you enjoy time together, without the everyday noise and distractions of our modern life. This doesn’t mean you should risk your life. Rather, be willing to adapt to the situation. Camping indoors or in a rental cabin is better than doing nothing.
  • IMG_1178Plan time together. The first big camping trip I took my daughter on in the mountains included fishing. She had seen fishing in cartoons and assumed it would be a very different experience. I am confident that she did not love it. She is too impatient. However, she loved sitting in my lap, eating snacks, talking, and reeling in the only fish we managed to catch, which she was terrified of when we finally got it to shore. The time we spent together was the big part. Eventually, I will teach my kids how to pick a campsite, build a fire, cook outdoors, etc. Those activities will be great because it will involve time together. For children, the time you spend focused on them is more valuable than anything else.
  • Step it up in increments. This weekend wasn’t our first experience with living room camping. My children are still young and I recognized that it was necessary to take small steps in the camping experience. Living room camping made it easy to put the kids to bed in their own room if sleeping in the tent proved to be too much for them. Cuddling in the cold of the morning was safer for the first time, knowing that I could take them in from the back yard if it freaked them out too much. Camping at a ranch, within walking distance of a ranch house, is a safe bet if the noises of camping outside of town became too much for them. Increments warmed the kids up to camping in a way that made it easier to experience. This summer I hope to get my daughter out to sleep under the stars.
  • Stay up late to see the stars. One of the biggest blessings of living in Montana is the abundance of beautiful scenery. Perhaps none better than standing under the night sky and seeing the grandeur of God’s creation sprawling before you. My preschool daughter was almost speechless at the sight. On our first camping trip in the mountains, we sat up late (admittedly, watching cartoons) and got out of the tent at 2 AM. The view was breathtaking. Living in a town or city often makes this sort of experience non-existent. If you are going to be out there, take advantage of the opportunity.
  • Eat junk food. There are purists who would disagree with me on this one. However, I am of the opinion that camping should be a special experience. It should be a big treat that they look forward to. Part of how I make this happen is by hitting the junk food aisles at the grocery store and letting the kids pick whatever they want. S’mores are a must, but cookies, chips, candy, etc. are not to be overlooked. Sitting up late, waiting for the sun to set and the stars to come out, and talking is greatly enhanced by the presence of processed junk food. Sharing a bag of Oreos with dad on a camping trip is pure gold. Disclaimer: In bear country, you have to be pretty careful. Have fun, but don’t be stupid.
  • Cook over the fire. Campfire food is amazing. Even if it’s not good by normal standards, a kid cooking their own meal over a real fire is an experience on its own. Teaching a kid to cook their own dinner and marshmallows over an open flame is integral to the camping experience. Plus, it feels like a grown up privilege for them. It’ll make the trip extra special.
  • Talk with your kids. Time spent camping should be special. Sometimes I let the kids watch cartoons, particularly when living room camping. We read comic books, play games, run around, and do all sorts of other things. But, I’d argue that the most important part is talking. You teach your kids how to be adults. Wisdom imparted while camping takes on an extra weight of importance. Don’t waste the opportunity to deepen your relationship through connecting and relating to your children. While you’re camping, the kids will have fewer distractions. Their tv, toys, phones, and every other shining thing that draws their (and your) attention away will be nowhere in sight. Take advantage of it. Talk to each other. This is particularly important when they are young. If you want your kids to talk with you when they are older, teach them to do it early.
  • Don’t forget to have fun. There are so many things to do and worry about that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that you are there to have fun. This is particularly the case because men often have trouble shutting off the part of our personality that focuses on work and worry. Your kids want to have fun with you. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself and them. They will only be young once. Don’t miss it.
  • Do it often! Camping is one of those things that they will remember, especially if you do it often. It’s not always easy to get away to the mountains to camp, but the backyard and living room are always there. Being a dad isn’t something you do once every summer. The biggest impact is made by investing a lot of time. Sleeping in a tent isn’t comfortable, but your kids will remember it for the rest of their lives.
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Laughter in Marriage

Nothing is more false than the idea that mockery is necessarily hostile. Until they have a baby to laugh at, lovers are always laughing at each other.

-CS Lewis, the Four Loves

I came across this line in my morning reading. It seems like the greatest blessing in life has been laughing and playing with my wife and kids. The biggest mistake I’ve made is trying to take our time together too seriously. Some of the best conversations my wife and I have involve laughing about the craziness of our children. I kinda suspect that God probably laughs about us too.

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Defining Manhood: Office, Man-Cave, or Study?

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Where I spend my time defines much of who I am.

A few months ago, my 2 year old boy got his own bedroom. The room change cost my wife her home office. She telecommutes, so her office is an indispensable commodity. She moved into my space and I moved my office to the back porch. As I was moving into my new space, I had a realization. For years I’ve been calling my space “my office.” This seems sensible to me, because I often work in it. Pastoring is seldom a 9-5 gig and work gets done when and where it needs to get done. However, I found myself settling into my office to work because it was there. Instead of walking down the road to my actual office, I would settle into my space to work whenever I felt like it. The down side of having a home office is that you actually use it. The line between home and work blurs more and more as time goes by. This is less than ideal, especially in a career that, by nature, doesn’t divide cleanly. My friends go to the church, my spiritual life is heavily attached to work, and my family life is connected to my job. Further, I realized that by calling it “my office,” I was defining myself heavily by my job. We use words to define things. Our labels for things will forever shape how we see them. My office is where I work. I don’t want to be defined by my employment in my own eyes or in the eyes of my children and wife. This makes it necessary to change the label. The challenge begins there. If I don’t want to be defined by my job, what do I want my space to be?

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In all honesty, my home office could easily be called “the giant mess where I hang out.” 

It’s popular for men to define their space by calling it a “man cave.” The idea behind the man cave originated with Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. The premise is that men tend to need alone time to recharge their batteries. The man cave has become a bit of a status symbol, with guys building elaborate rooms dedicated to “manly things,” like cars, video games, drinking, etc. The problem I have with this is that it plays the same game as the “home office” by defining men. Instead of defining men by their work, they are defined by their lowest, least evolved state. “Cave man” may be a part of our past, but it is not something to aspire to. I used to wear diapers and I may one day be forced to do so again, but I do not aspire to return to that stage. People will typically only jump as high as the bar that is set for them. If you tell me, my son, or any other man that a caveman is what they are, aspiring to greater is a bit muted. I don’t want a cave and I don’t want my “alone time” to be a de-evolution. Labels ought to inspire men to aspire to greater things.

This prompted me to start calling it my “study.” I don’t take tests and probably will not be in school ever again. However, I want to get better. I read and research to improve myself because my wife and kids deserve the best me I can give them. I feed my curiosity and entertain myself with things that interest me and prompt me to grow. Rest and recharge can be accomplished by aspiring for better, rather than merely escaping to work or mindlessness. There is a secondary consideration here, beyond my own aspirations. My children learn what men ought to look like and how they ought to behave by watching me. Their first lessons in this subject matter will be learned from me. The words I use to define myself and how I model manhood will teach them much. How do I want my son to see his own manhood? Make no mistake, he will learn his values by imitating me. Will he be defined by his employment or his basest drives? Or will he learn to be something more by watching me?

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4 Techniques for Managing Childrens’ Behavior

IMG_2990Early in my career, I worked at a facility for children with emotional disorders. We provided services for children ranging in age from 8 to 18. Many of our clients came from juvenile detention and it wasn’t unusual for them to have received little parental discipline or direction. One of the major challenges of the job was getting our adolescent clients through their everyday routine without major blowups, violence, or even having them just sit down and refuse to do anything at all. This was particularly challenging when it came to doing chores, going to school, and going to bed on time. During the first few months at the agency the training regimen is excessive, between behavior intervention techniques, therapeutic crisis intervention, and basic relational techniques. During that time I learned a grab bag of techniques for convincing kids to follow directions or to stop acting badly without resorting to physical intervention. As a parent, I’m increasingly discovering how useful these techniques are in raising and disciplining my own children. Having options when it comes to kids is great because they can be incredibly frustrating. Being able to choose an approach gives you a sense of control that can feel like it’s in short supply when you have only one or two approaches. The following are the interventions that I have found most useful in parenting:
  • 971904_10151370209716599_114566200_nPlanned Ignoring/Positive Attention This technique is based on the assumption that kids sometimes act out in an effort to get your attention or to get you to act in a particular way. Simply put, you do not reward undesirable behavior at all. You don’t cater to it or even acknowledge it. When they do what you want, you lavish praise and attention on them. One of the most obvious examples of this is the temper tantrum. Every morning I dress my 3 year old daughter and take her to work with me. Since she reached the age of 2 she has begun to disagree with me regarding the right wardrobe choices. This sometimes results in a fit of screaming and carrying on. Since it’s in my own home, I’m under no pressure to engage it. So, I usually walk away and let her yell. When she realizes that it’s not working she stops. On the other hand, when she asks for different clothes appropriately, I praise her and listen to her opinion. This approach works best with annoying behaviors when there are no time pressures. It essentially allows the child to figure out that what they are doing isn’t working. If they have a fit in the middle of the grocery store, ignoring it isn’t the right choice. If they are playing with knives, ignoring it is a bad idea.
  • Redirection- Kids have a tendency to lock into ideas or behaviors, not easily letting go. This tunnel vision makes it hard for them to let go of what they are locked onto. This can be inconvenient when they get upset about something they don’t understand, want to do but cannot, or something they just won’t let go of. Sometimes the solution to this is redirecting their attention, getting the child to pay attention to something else that will draw their focus away from whatever it is that they are locked on to. Typically, this involves picking a new area of focus and giving them a reason to focus on it. Years ago I was working with a young man who had become very upset about losing some privileges. He worked himself into a tizzy and was acting out loudly. I sat down with him and began telling him a story about my dog. I put a lot of energy into the story and was animated in my telling of it. I maintained eye contact with the boy the whole time. He slowly calmed down as his focus shifted and he went from cussing and throwing things to listening to my silly story. The story worked because I gave him a new focus, I held his attention through eye contact, and I was energetic and interesting. This drew him away from his tunnel vision.
  • Giving them choices- For some reason, children sometimes decide to just dig in and do the opposite of whatever you tell them. I pick out a shirt for her to wear and she doesn’t want it, no matter what I pick out. Part of reason this happens is because as kids mature they begin to assert more and more control over their environment. This prompts them to simply dig in because they can. One solution is offering 2 or 3 choices, which allows us them to have some control over the situation. The approach applies in all sorts of situations. I’ve had success using this when choosing what to feed the kids, who will read bedtime stories, etc. This approach is mostly effective when the child is resisting based on their desire to control their environment.
  • Hurdle Help- Hurdle help involves turning a large task into small, easily accomplished steps. My daughter struggles with cleaning up the giant messes she seems to be able to make. When directed to clean, she will respond that it’s too much and that she cannot possibly do it by herself. Prodding and pushing only results in her yelling that she cannot do it. Instead, I tell her to pick up one specific toy, for example her toy train, and put it in the toy box. Then another and another. This continues until she is in the process of picking up toys. I’ve used it with older students who were struggling with being overwhelmed by school assignments, like writing papers. Instead of saying: “write the paper,” I tell them to pick out a smaller task to accomplish, followed by another, until the paper is completed. Hurdle help works well in situations when a task or expectation is too much to take on altogether, either because the child is overwhelmed or too stubborn to do a larger task.
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5 Principles to Improve Quality Time with the Kids

1975015_10152240424546599_7203914151302774949_nI take my daughter with me to the office every day. She goes on nursing home visitation with me. Sometimes she goes with me when I visit parishioners in their homes. She spends about 8 hours of every day with me. Unfortunately, there is a difference between time when she is playing with dolls in my office while I work and quality time. I’ve spent some time in previous posts discussing daddy-daughter date nights and tea parties. Those sorts of activities are great, but tend to be spread out. It’s important to spend time with your kids daily. I encourage dads to try to spend at least an hour with their kids daily, just focusing on them. This sort of invested time is important to children and will impact them well into the future. This time investment may seem difficult, but I’ve discovered that it’s all about how you spend the time. It’s easy to look at an energetic kid at the end of a long work day and cringe at the thought of trying to keep up with them for 5 minutes, let alone an hour. Or to look at your daughter’s Frozen dolls with horror at the thought of reenacting a few of the dance numbers. However, there are a few tricks that work well for making the time more enjoyable for both you and your child.
  • 1506038_10151724169801599_53124884_nFocus on the Big Picture– Everything is about the mindset you bring to it. It’s important to remember that the time you are spending is an investment in the life of a person you love and who loves you unconditionally. That investment will help shape their sense of self worth, confidence, and your influence on their values and beliefs. Further, your child is also a child of God, one who you are preparing for a life of knowing Him. Part of how they perceive God will be shaped by their relationship with you. This isn’t time wasted when you’d rather be unwinding. It’s time spent on a job that is far more important than the one you get your paycheck for doing.
  • Spend Time Reading– One of my daughter’s favorite daddy-daughter date night activities is going to the comic book store. I pick up a few comics for her every time we are in town and several times a week she sits in my lap and I read her comics. We do this because I figured out that Wonder Woman comics are more interesting to me than Elmo books. I will happily read old Batman issues to her, largely because I enjoy them, too. She wouldn’t be too excited about getting the books if we didn’t read them to her. My point is that most kids love being read to and reading is a very low key activity that requires little chasing around. It’s possible to find things to read to them that you enjoy as well. Further, reading to kids is one of the best ways to get them to read when they are older.
  • 10488087_10152055705381599_3438918976874211789_nBe Creative- I recently found myself playing with my daughter’s frozen castle and toys on the living room floor. I cannot stress enough how little interest I have in princesses. Rather than phoning the time I was spending with her in, I took out some batman toys I had picked up during one of our trips to the comic books store. Before long, Batman was saving Elsa from the Joker. There was fighting and adventure and princess stuff. She loved the silliness of it, though I suspect that my enthusiasm and energy was what she really appreciated. Kids like being the center of their parents’ attention. Bringing a little creativity to the table is important for making sure that you are able to enjoy the time as well. Don’t hear me saying that spending time with your kids is dull or that it’s all about you. What I am saying is that adult men don’t necessarily enjoy the same activities as small children. Bringing your own interests into the mix can raise the entertainment factor and make it easier to consistently put the time in every day.
  • Let them help- My daughter gets a huge kick out of helping me do almost anything I do. She wants to help do dishes, vacuum, cook dinner, change lightbulbs, and almost anything else I do during the day. Letting her help do my honey-do list often makes the tasks more difficult to complete, but it’s time that she enjoys. She loves unloading things from the car or sweeping the kitchen. Letting them help do the things you need to do is a great way to spend quality time while accomplishing other tasks.
  • Be physical– It’s important to rough house and be physical with your kids for a few reasons. First, children are often extremely energetic. Playing in a high energy way with them is valuable for burning off excess energy. Boys, in particular, need to physically engage and play rough. Doing this with their father is a huge deal. Beyond rough housing, sitting with kids in your lap, cuddling, holding hands, hugging, tickling, etc. are all important. Humans experience affection in all sorts of ways. One of them is touch. Being physically close and touching is something kids need. I worked with a client in a mental health setting who would become aggressive every day, forcing the staff to physically engage him daily. After months of this, one of the staff started hugging the child several times a day. The physical aggression stopped almost completely after that. He wanted to be held, so he found a way to force other people to hold him. Kids need affectionate physical contact, particularly from their parents.
  • 1524634_10152116874261599_8558148131602334420_nPay attention to them– Kids catch on pretty quickly when you aren’t interested in what they are doing. If you sit and surf the internet on your phone while you play with them, they’ll notice. If you ignore the stories they tell you, they’ll catch on. It won’t make them hate you. It’ll adjust where they think they land on your priority list. While you are giving the time they are getting from you, give them your undivided attention. Ask questions. Tell them things. Take the time to teach them new things.
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Seeds Planted in Our Children’s Hearts

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A couple of weeks ago, my 3-year old started going to our church’s midweek program. One of the things they do each week is memorize Bible verses. The first week, my beautiful 3-year old learned Genesis 1:1

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth.”

We’ve had her practice it a few times, and she has enjoyed sharing the verse she learned.

Every week, my daughter also goes to the nursing home in town to visit. She has been eating meals with and helping residents there for over 2 years. One of the gals we have spent a lot of time with, who always shares her dessert with my girl, passed away this week. On receiving the news, I sat down with my daughter to explain that we wouldn’t see our friend any more. I began to explain that our friend had died and we will see her again one day when we go to be with Jesus, too. When I said that she had gone to heaven, she immediately recited her Bible verse. I didn’t prompt her to say it. She just heard me say heaven and immediately associated it with the scripture verse she had memorized. I don’t think she fully grasps death or heaven. But, I know that she is remembering God’s word and that word will always be there. Even from this early age, she can connect God’s word to the things we discuss.

That morning I received a powerful and convicted illustration of a concept I’ve been talking about with people for years. Kids remember what we teach them. The seeds we plant in our children’s hearts can sprout and grow. It’s easy to assume that they don’t understand or don’t remember such things, but the seeds we plant and water will grow. It’s so important to plant the seeds.

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Raising Kids that Keep Their Faith

1618445_10151891598676835_1094650859_nAfter 15 years as a professional minister, working with kids for 13 of those years, I have watched all sorts of young people grow up and make decisions to continue in the faith of their youth or opt to walk away. I have also read arguments as to who or what is usually at fault for the exodus of young people from the church. Colleges with secular agendas, public high schools, federal education standards, pop culture, and television are among the favorite targets. While all of these things may play a part in the trend, one of the major factors that gets far less attention is parental involvement. While there is no guarantee that anything will guarantee that kids will continue in the faith after growing up, there are several common factors I have observed that influence outcomes enormously.
  • Parents who are active in their faith. Parents who actively live out what they believe raise kids who follow their parent’s example. Teaching kids to love their neighbor as themselves, to forgive enemies, the importance of caring for widows and orphans, etc. are all part of living out the teachings of Jesus. Children are observant and know when their parents say one thing and do another. Earnestly living out the teachings of Jesus is the best way to teach kids how to earnestly live out their faith.
  • Parents who talk about their faith with their kids. Talking with kids about what you believe on a regular basis is a vital part of teaching them. This is important because kids learn to think through issues and make decisions as they grow up. Teaching them how to consider various aspects of life and decisions from the perspective of their faith is important. It doesn’t happen naturally; it is the product of teaching.
  • 15807_10152392291191835_2354946417354094654_nPray with and for them. Prayer is like breathing to spiritual life and development. It’s also powerful and effective. Going before God and raising up your kids daily is important. It’s also important to teach them how to pray and its importance. Thanking God together, praising Him in prayer, learning to confess our sins against Him, and seeking His assistance in our lives are all practices we teach our children when we pray for them.
  • Active participation in their faith life. Raising a child who learns the value of their faith requires participation that goes beyond dropping them off for Sunday School or Youth Group. Asking questions, encouraging them to talk about it, participating in service opportunities together, and studying the Bible as a family. Parental involvement is important.
  • Parents demonstrating the importance of weekly worship. Attending worship as a family demonstrates the importance of worshipping God. It’s of particular importance for the father to be involved in family worship, because kids tend to watch what their father does and learn from it. Sitting together, worshipping together, praying together, and other worship activities are central to the task. Family worship participation is an important key to raising a child who values their faith.
When children grow up, they make their own choices. The best things a parent can do are 1) teach their children values and 2) teach them about their faith so that their kids can make an informed decision when they are mature enough to do so. Until then, training in the faith is more than a passing acknowledgement of it. It’s a demonstrated lifestyle.
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Daddy-Daughter Date Night Idea: The Last Minute Tea Party

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IMG_2878The last few days, which were supposed to be days off, wound up being impromptu work days for me. When I came home this evening, my 3 year old attacked me with pleas for attention and play time. It’s important to understand that as a dad and a follower of Jesus, I consider it my duty to love my daughter in a way that shows her who Jesus is. It’s a job I take very seriously. So, I spent some time playing, but I had to start making dinner. It was late and I was tired, so dinner was not going to be anything spectacular. I put a frozen pizza in the oven and made sandwiches and salads for my wife and I, all the while my daughter was danced around me in an effort to get my attention. Then, I had an idea. I put on the kettle to boil and made tea in her teapot, one I picked up specifically for tea parties with her. As soon as she saw it out and me filling it with water, she started squealing about having a tea party. I set the table with candles, put out teacups and saucers, put her in her fancy dress, and put on my suit. My wife quickly joined the act, putting on a dress. The result was a IMG_2868 2tea party with our little girl over a regular dinner of frozen pizza and salads. It’s not an elaborate daddy-daughter date night, but throughout dinner she repeatedly exclaimed how excited she was to have a tea party for dinner. It wasn’t my preferred daddy-daughter day together. However, given the brief time I had available to plan dinner, our impromptu candlelit tea party was a huge hit with one of the people who matters most to me.   IMG_2879 IMG_2883click here for dad daughter

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4 Tough Parenting Approaches that Work

10491278_10152091318686599_8769886226755773189_nWhile watching my kids play at the park yesterday, my daughter came running to me from under play structure, crying and rubbing her forehead. She had bumped her head on the underside of of the fire engine jungle gym. A hug, a kiss on the forehead, and and a few comforting words later, she was running around again. The most natural response to my little girl’s feeling pain, is offering comfort and doing the best I can to make it better. This is a natural response for parents. Protecting our children is programmed into our DNA. The most natural thing in the world is to hurt when our kids hurt and to try to fix it. Unfortunately, as time goes on, this instinct can get in the way of healthy development into adulthood. There are times when parents need to reign in their instinct and allow their children to struggle or hurt sometimes because its whats best for them.

There is a great line in in Proverbs:

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. 

Proverbs 13:24

Many folks read this as a direction to spank their kids. While this may be the case, disciplining your child includes far more than just spanking. Discipline is a wide ranging concept that is downright difficult for parents to follow through with, largely because it runs totally contrary to our inborn parental drive to protect and comfort. Here are four difficult forms of discipline every child needs, but parents are often reluctant to provide:

Natural consequences– Natural consequences are the natural, expected outcome of poor decision making. For example, if a child waits until the night before a project is due before they start working on it, 10624972_10152244365051599_3708616376640736165_nthen the natural consequence is a poor grade. All too often, parents see their child panicked the day before, and bail them out. At times this involves doing the work for them or calling them in sick for school the next day. These situations are teachable opportunities. Parents must decide if they will teach their child that someone else will always be there to bail them out, or if they will learn the hard lesson: “If you don’t do the work, you will fail.” This is one example, but of a huge area of teaching. If you watch people long enough, you will witness parents who attack teachers because their kids aren’t getting A’s, or demanding their kid gets to play a starting position on the soccer team, or any other situation where a parent shields their child from the consequences of their actions or failures. I’m not saying that helping your kid deal with consequences isn’t okay sometimes. Rather, I am saying that protecting them from everything teaches them to be sheltered.

Let them struggle– My little girl’s theme song right now is: “I need some help to do that.” It almost always starts playing when I ask her to do something she finds distasteful, like finishing lunch or cleaning up her toys. There are other times she tries to do things that she is just too small or young to do easily. In most instances it’s easier or seems more compassionate to help. I want her to think I will help her and take care of her. However, sometimes she needs to struggle in order to build perseverance and tenacity. If quitting is always an acceptable option, then queen she doesn’t want to do things, she’ll quit. Sometimes she needs to struggle through something difficult on her own in order to understand that the sweetest victories in life are the hard fought victories. One day my son will probably have to punch a bully in the nose. My daughter will need to practice piano for an hour a day to learn to play. Letting them face these hard situations and struggle through them creates character.

Let them fail- Our culture doesn’t seem to like letting kids lose or experience sad feelings. This has spawned sports leagues that don’t keep score and situations where kids are guaranteed success. How we deal with failure is easily as important as how we deal with success. Learning to fail and keep trying is very important, largely because there is little that can be accomplished in life without failing. Parents sometimes need to back up and let their kids fail. Its hard and heartbreaking, but its an important life lesson.

Praise their effort not their existence- I’m going to admit that this is really hard for me. I spend all kinds of time talking to my kids, and really love how they react to praise. The problem with this is that praise can train the wrong lessons into kids. We want them to feel good about themselves and be confident, but praise for things that are handed to them or not earned teaches them that they are great just for being. A far stronger lesson is praising them for the work they put in. If a child learns that their hard work is worthy and good, they will work hard. If they are perfect just for getting out of bed in the morning, they’ll expect praise for getting out of bed in the morning. Praising is good, it can reinforce behaviors. It must be used properly to be effective.

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5 Principles for Disciplining Children

10362863_10152240653161599_2278280600722933084_n  The day after my daughter’s second birthday, something crazy happened. My sweet little princess almost instantly transformed. She went to bed a cute ball of sugar and cuteness. She woke up the next day a tiny tyrant, complete with temper tantrums, stomping and screaming, throwing herself on the floor, and occasionally pulling handfuls of hair out. I haven’t figured out what caused the change, I’m pretty sure there was something in the cake. The terrible twos had begun and there was no going back.

I’ll admit that deep down I wonder if she will grow out of it, or if I will raise her into one of those adults who throws tantrums at the grocery store because the line is too long. This shift has prompted a number of discussions between my wife and I on the matter of proper discipline. We don’t always agree on the right way to discipline, but we agree that correction is important to raising a child who has learned how to live and act properly. Here are some of the basic concepts that come into play in our discipline strategy.

Discipline is an act of love. As tough as it seems, discipline is a loving response to incorrect behaviors. The author of Hebrews points this out.

And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”   Hebrews 12:5-6

God demonstrates wise parenting by redirecting behaviors to change the direction of those he loves. Discipline turns us from decisions, behaviors, and attitudes that could potentially cause us great harm. Ignoring destructive behavior or responding in a manner that is inadequate to change the behavior may feel nicer than punishment, but it brings more pain when ingrained behaviors need to be relearned later.

IMG_2431Discipline is best when it instructs. One of the clearest memories I have of being disciplined as a child was that it was always followed by my parents sitting with me and explaining the purpose for the correction and basic instruction on how to behave.

Discipline must be proportional. There is a hard balance to manage with children and discipline. Micromanaging a child crushes them. Responding to minor infractions with huge punishments is out of proportion and will only result in either a crushed sense of independence or resentment. The real objective is a chance of direction. Paul presents this idea in the household code he included in his epistle to the Ephesians.

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.  Ephesians 6:4

Discipline must be timely. Discipline must be clearly associated with the behavior for it to be effective. The age of a child is important to take into account when determining timely discipline. A 3-year old doesn’t do as well associating consequences with behaviors the further apart they take place. Correcting a toddler for behaviors that took place a week ago simply won’t be effective. They don’t think that way. Teenagers, on the other hand, are a little more mentally advanced and can associate consequences with actions that are a little more removed. Another important component of timeliness is the emotional state of the child at the time of correction. It always makes me scratch my head when I watch a parent trying to reason with a child in the middle of a full tilt tantrum. Tantrums are the point where thinking isn’t going to happen. Period. Instruction at this time will not correct the behavior.

IMG_0912Consistency is key. Children are keenly aware of how you are going to respond. They know if they can get away with things because you aren’t going to respond. Further, sending mixed messages will only confuse them. There is a degree to which discipline is classical conditioning. Inconsistency will undermine the conditioning component. If you make a threat of punishment and don’t follow through, you will have more trouble in the future. If parents are openly divided on discipline issues, the child will recognize it and figure out how to work the division to their advantage. It’s necessary to figure out your approach and stick with it.

Remember that you love your kid. When your child picks the worst possible moment and way to act out, it’s hard to remember that you are responding out of a desire to correct their behavior so they will be successful adults. Kids have an innate skill for driving their parents nuts. The only reason they can do this is because they are so precious to us. When other people’s kids have tantrums, I don’t pull my hair out the same way I do with my own. It’s harder because we love them.

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