Tag Archives: mentoring

Quote: Reward in Good Character

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Your Bad Habits and Your Brain

head-607480_960_720.jpgI am a magnet for bad habits and addictions. I know I am not alone in this. I have spoken to scores of men who have developed unwanted patterns in their work, relationships, stress management, and leisure. Part of what puzzled me about my habits over the years is that many of them are things I don’t really want to do, but it seemed like my mind would shift into automatic pilot time and again, allowing me to live out some impulse that I’d just as soon avoid. The following is a newspaper column I wrote looking at brain functions and why they make habitual behaviors so difficult to break.

This article was originally published in the Big Sandy Mountaineer 9/9/15.

There was a large wooded park with a lake behind the house my family lived in while I was attending high school. During the four years we lived in that home, my siblings and I frequently spent hours wandering through the woods around that lake. When we did, we usually walked along the trails and paths, because it was easier. Occasionally, I remember straying from the well-worn paths and crashing through the brush. This usually took longer and resulted in scratches, scrapes, and swearing to yourself that you’d stick to the path next time. The reason is obvious: well-worn pathways are easier to travel. There is a similar phenomena that takes place within the human brain. We all have a portion of our brain that controls motor functions and handles our actions/reactions during times of stress, often referred to as fight-or-flight moments. In moments when thinking isn’t possible and the body needs to act quickly, our actions will tend to follow the “well-worn paths” that exist within our brains. This is why athletes and soldiers practice the same movements over and over in training, to prepare them to act without thinking. It sometimes leads to strange behaviors under pressure. I recently read about soldiers collecting spent cartridges in combat, mimicking their repeated behavior on the shooting range. It’s a terrible decision to collect brass while being shot at, but the point is that it isn’t a decision. It’s rehearsed behavior. This is an extraordinary example, but there are far more common ones, like when a person reaches for a cigarette or drink without thinking – especially during times of stress. There’s a part of the brain that knows that a drink or a smoke helps manage stress, which makes this an easy pathway to develop in our brains.

A far more common example of this is seen in bad habits, particularly communication and coping habits that folks develop in their relationships. We learn to fight certain ways, and breaking those habits is difficult because it’s what we’ve memorized through repeated practice. We know our arguing strategies or our escape plans and go to them almost instinctively. Married couples often find themselves having arguments that follow the same course as every previous argument they’ve had over the last several years. Husbands sometimes respond to arguing by shutting down and running for the safety of the tv, late work days, or just hanging out in the garage. Wives learn to argue as effectively as possible or to hide out by focusing on the kids or some other part of life other than their spouse. The pattern repeats and repeats, even when it doesn’t make sense anymore or when both parties realize and acknowledge that it’s making them miserable. This is largely because they have found a pathway in their brains that works, even if it doesn’t. This easy path becomes the “go to” rut that they get stuck in, largely because it is practiced and repeated so often. Changing these trained behaviors can be terribly difficult, as anyone who has ever tried to break a bad habit knows. Success can frequently be short-circuited by new stress or frustration, which sends the individual running back to the old behavior. The last few installments of this column have looked at poor communication habits that develop in marriage. Part of what makes these habits so very difficult to break is that developed pathway. We learn them and they stay learned until we unlearn them. Unlearning involves an intentional effort to change our attitude and that couples work as a team in changing the relationship patterns. Only by intentional working together, sometimes with the assistance of a counselor, (or by an act of God) are most of well-worn pathways replaced with new healthier ones. The first step is always to acknowledge the problem and choose to work toward overcoming the habit.

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Frog, Toad, Cookies, and Temptation

Originally published in the Patching Cracks column in the Big Sandy Mountaineer 4/24/14. I have done some some editing and made some additions here. 
Frog-and-Toad-illustratio-007.jpgOne of my favorite stories to read my daughter at bedtime is from The Adventures of Frog and Toad. In the story, Toad bakes a batch of cookies. He and Frog discover that they cannot stop eating the cookies because they are too delicious. They begin to devise ways to prevent themselves from eating the cookies by making it more difficult to give in to temptation. Frog called it: “Building up willpower.” They quickly discovered that if they wanted to eat the cookies badly enough they would find a way around obstacles. Eventually, Frog throws away all the cookies and proclaims: “we have lots and lots of willpower.” To which Toad responds: “You may keep it all, Frog, I am going home now to bake a cake.” It’s a funny story with an interesting point. The problem wasn’t the cookies, the problem was that they wanted the cookies more than they wanted to not eat them. The book of James touches on this idea when it addresses the things that are in our lives that cause temptation. It’s easy to blame God for giving us such temptations. However, temptation starts in us and are a product of our fallenness. In Romans Paul describes how the sin living in us seizes upon the law of God as a standard to rebel against. Sin drives us to do things we hate. He describes sin and the ensuing temptation as powerful and ruling over our bodies. As a result of this powerful force within us, even if the things we want are not in front of us, if we want them badly enough, we will go looking for them. Mind you, it is not the case that desire itself is bad. Desire is natural. Desire for food, pleasure, leisure, security, relationships, being right, or anything else are simply a part of how people are designed. Desire becomes destructive when it loses all checks and begins to cause damage. It can be seen in decisions made simply based on a desire with no concern for inevitable consequences and what is right or wrong. A common example is carelessly spoken words that are regretted the moment they are spoken. Other examples include extramarital affairs, the seemingly iron grip that pornography seems to have over the lives of many men, addictions, eating disorders, spending problems, etc. These typically involve normally healthy desires that become distorted and get out of control. James describes this as being dragged away by our own lusts. Ultimately, it’s important to recognize that the source of the problem is within us.

The solution for dealing with these sorts of issues begins with recognizing that if our problem is rooted internally, the solution will need to be external to some degree. The Bible describes the solution as allowing God to intervene and aid us in overcoming that which controls us. If we aren’t strong enough to defeat a problem on our own, we need someone who can aid us in doing so. Apart from a higher power intervening, we will find ourselves stuck. Paul explains this in Romans 7 & 8. New life in Jesus through God’s Spirit is the pathway to overcoming temptation. This is achieved through intimate relationship with the savior and discipleship. The Spirit supernaturally intercedes and enables us to overcome temptation. Sometimes this means confessing our sins and seeking accountability with our brothers in Christ. It begins by acknowledging to God that you are helpless to overcome your own sins and that you need Jesus to give us new life. Shortly thereafter we need to actually come under his Lordship by obeying his teachings, joining a body of believers, reading his word, and talking to him regularly.
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What Does It Mean to Be A Real Man?

IMG_7389“Next week, if you guys would like, we will start a teaching series on ‘what does it mean to be a man?’” I was pretty surprised by the response this statement garnered amongst the young men in the room. I was teaching Bible to a group of clients at a drug treatment program. The boys were largely placed by the local jail, most were from bad neighborhoods and broken homes. There were lots of kids with gang affiliations and long criminal histories. The biggest challenge in teaching them anything was finding things they would engage with at all. In this case, the young men who were present responded enthusiastically. Many of them approached me later, individually, to express their excitement about learning how to be a real man. I was initially perplexed by the response, largely because the young men routinely and loudly proclaimed their manliness. It was common to hear them yell and carry on about how tough they were. I often joked that it was like watching an episode of wild kingdom, with the young male lions strutting and posing in an effort to intimidate each other. The crazy secret behind the whole display was that most of the young men had no idea at all about what it meant to be a real man. They just figured that if they faked it loudly enough everyone would buy their act. Boys learn how to be men by watching their dads. This is the way God designed the world. If fathers are flawed, their children learn to be flawed men. This is one of the reasons why alcoholic men tend to raise alcoholic men and why the Bible says that sons are punished for their father’s sins for generations to follow. In the case of the boys in the program, because none of them had a dad to watch and emulate, they were left with what they could piece together from pop culture and their peers. The challenge with that is that boys compete with each other naturally. This meant that the fatherless boys tried to be men by being tougher than the other guy. The end result was emptiness. If a man tries to find his manhood in violence, sex, work, wealth, or anything else in the world that is temporary and fleeting, they will simply end up emptier. Solomon said that wealth, sex, work, and everything else is just a vapor. It passes and disappears as though it was never there in the first place.

atlasThe topic of manhood is complicated and will take more than one post to properly explore. In the short term, it’s important to establish a basic concept of manhood from which to work. I’d suggest that the place to start is with the source of manhood identity that is built into our world: Boys learn to be men by watching their fathers. This is because parents stand in God’s place in the lives of their children for the first several years of their lives. They provide life, food, shelter, moral guidance, correction, etc. Children’s conception of God is often shaped by their perception of their dads. Genesis tells us that when God created man, He created them in His own image. Fathers (and all men for that matter) are supposed to be copies of God in many respects. We are to share His heart, passions, loves, understanding of family, and work. When dads fail to model this lifestyle and teach their boys to do the same, they create problems. Fortunately, God provides us a more clarified example of manhood in the person of Jesus, who is God made flesh. A boy without a good fatherly model to follow can see ideal manhood in Jesus. When we choose to follow Jesus, our job is to learn to be like him through a lifetime of training, which is discipleship. This is why Christ’s self-sacrificing love and attitude of humble service is the example for husbands. He demonstrates the ideal manner of intimate relationship through his relationship with the church.

overly-manly-man-ansd-steakIt’s easy to picture Jesus as a pollyanna-type figure or as the feathered haired guy in a bathrobe that we all encountered on flannel graphs in Sunday School as kids. Fortunately, the tame version of the Son of God is far from accurate. C.S. Lewis captured Jesus’ identity best when he wrote: “He’s not safe! But, he’s good.” Jesus’ integrity, passion, penchant for action, grace, wisdom, willingness to speak openly (even offensively if necessary), self-sacrificing service, and lifetime focus on making the world better are just a few of the qualities that make Jesus is the ideal standard of manhood. He is the ideal mold from which men were meant to be cast. It is from Him that we learn how God desires us to be. Once we know, our job is to enter training to become like him.

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Where In the World is the Proverbs 31 Woman: Part 1 Understanding the Background

goodwifeguide-331x268Over the past few years, I’ve read several articles arguing varying perspectives on the ideal wife portrayed in Proverbs 31. Most of these articles have argued the matter in terms of whether or not this woman is a standard model for wives and women everywhere to aspire to be the best housewife possible in serving her 1950s family or an allegory for wisdom so as to remove the unattainable ideal that just serves to discourage women into standardized gender roles. I’ll admit that these characterizations are hyperbole, but I am exaggerating the extreme sides of this debate for a reason: because this text has become a bit of a tug-o-war passage for folks in the battle over the role of women in the church. Each side pulling for a gender political stance and taking pride in their position, sometimes without bothering to ask whether or not they are glorifying Christ in their stance. My intent in this post is not to engage either of these positions, but rather to offer an analysis of the text with an eye on shedding a little light as to what believers are actually supposed to do with these passages.

Preliminary Issues: Genre, Audience, and Context
In advance of the discussion, there are a few important concepts that need to be understood as a lens through which we must look in interpreting the passage. The first is the genre of literature being discussed. Wisdom literature, and more specifically the proverb, is a specific genre that needs to be understood on its own terms. Reading Proverbs isn’t like reading the instruction manual for your toaster. It’s a highly defined style of writing, featuring multiple sub-genres. In this case, it’s important to recognize that the text is presenting an idealized truth. It is the same throughout the book. This idealized truth must be understood as such. It’s easy to recognize this when comparing the book to other wisdom texts. For example, read Proverbs straight through, then read Ecclesiastes or Job. All three are wisdom literature, but the three texts offer very different perspectives on the world. In Job, the righteous man loses everything and suffers despite being blameless. In fact, Job’s friends seem to reflect a position that might be supported by the book of Proverbs: If bad things are happening to you, you must have acted wickedly. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon declares some hard realities that seem to stand at odds with the more idealized book of Proverbs. There seems to be a contradiction between the books. However, this contradiction is pressing only if we rigidly look at the proverbs as absolute statements of truth or rules for the universe, instead of recognizing that ideals are being presented. To this end, it is important to recognize that this is an idealized version of women, a target to aspire to. It is not a list of hard and fast rules for wives. Rather, it is an ideal.

Further, the passage itself is Hebrew poem, written with a structure that gives hints as to what the main point is. For starters, each line of the text begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which points to the completeness of the truth being presented. Acrostics could also be used to aid in memorization. This is important because the book is intended to be instructional material for young men. Easy memorization would be a desirable feature. In addition, the poem itself has a Chiastic structure. This is when the first and last line parallel each other, the second and second to last line parallel each other, and so forth. The middle line of the poem, which has no parallel, is the major point being made. In this case verse 23 is the center of the poem:Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land. Essentially, the poem culminates in the instruction that a man with a good wife will be lauded publicly. A modern equivalent would be: “Behind every successful man stands a strong woman.” This may seem like a back-handed treatment of women, saying that their only purpose is to make their husbands successful, but this isn’t the case because wives aren’t the target audience of this text.

When interpreting scripture, understanding the target audience intended by the author is valuable for understanding the message being presented. In the case of the book of Proverbs, the target audience is young men. Throughout the book, young men are addressed in the instructions. In fact, chapter 31 is advice given to King Lemuel by his mother. In this context, the advice being given to sons in the chapter is essentially that picking a good wife will aid in you becoming the kind of man that folks esteem highly. This is hardly unique in the text. 25:24 warns: Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. What sort of wife should you seek? One that you don’t fight with constantly, or you’ll hit a point where you’d rather sleep on the roof than with her. Chapter 5 is loaded with advice for young men regarding loose sexual morals. Young men are instructed to avoid such behavior and keep their sexuality confined to the relationship with their wives. In this light, the passage fits the larger context of the book’s tendency to offer advice to young men about ideal truths. This is most evident in verse 30: Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Young men tend to gravitate to a pretty face when selecting a wife, while ignoring more important qualities, like character. The advice being offered is heavily oriented toward young men’s inclinations. Again, the audience is important because it reveals a truth that is often ignored by those who attempt to interpret the text in terms of gender roles: chapter 31 is never intended to be used as an instruction manual for wives. It is not a checklist for being the ideal wife. Rather, it is advice for sons to look for certain qualities in their wives if they want to be successful and well thought of. That having been said, there are truths that can be gleaned and applied for wives, but more on that later.

1f63a8228ad74caec641eaecef106871Understanding the historic context is also important for getting a solid grip on the meaning of the passage. The advice being offered isn’t being given in a culture where people typically married for love. Marriage was generally a very utilitarian institution. Wives were selected based on all sorts of considerations, most of them pragmatic. The poem is literally about choosing a wife according to high character standards. This choosing was more akin to shopping than our culture tends to immediately recognize.

In the next installment, we’ll look at the most important background issue: How to interpret what King Lemuel’s mom was saying. Is it symbolic of something else? Is it a guide for being a perfect housewife? Is it a call to return to the 50s? Or is it something better that all believers can take hold of with joy?
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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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Understanding Pornography Addiction

Cycle_of_AbuseIt’s easy to understand how alcohol or cocaine are addictive substances, but when it comes to pornography addiction understanding the issues involved can be more difficult for a variety of reasons. For starters, discovering a hidden pornography habit can result in significant feelings of betrayal for a wife and can make understanding the addiction component very difficult. In addition, pornography use carries some stigma, which clouds perspective and makes understanding the addiction more difficult. However, pornography addiction is a real illness, it’s diagnosable, and it’s treatable. Looking at pornography produces similar brain functions that take place with using cocaine. It is highly addictive for the same reasons as any other drug. This is not to excuse the betrayal of a spouse or anything of the sort. Rather, it is to say that an individual can develop an illness, which prevents them from quitting the behavior. Let there be no mistake, addicts cannot stop a behavior on their own. Denial, thinking errors, shame, and an out-of-control reward response system in their brains literally result in the addictive patterns becoming compulsive.

A behavior is an addiction, rather than just being a set of sinful decisions, if it features certain common qualities:
  1. Increased tolerance– Increased tolerance as it relates to pornography use involves getting into increasingly harder-core porn or much more of it in order to achieve the same results that were achieved with less before. Increased frequency of use can also be associated with increased tolerance.
  2. Withdrawal- Withdrawal from pornography use can involve cravings, restlessness, anxiety, depression, etc. Withdrawal doesn’t necessarily happen instantly. It can take as much as a week or more to fire up.
  3. Continued use despite harm- When an addict recognizes that their addiction is hurting them, they continue to use. They may get caught, feel shame, or other negative effects, but they do not stop, largely because they cannot.
  4. Using more or for longer periods than intended- This is essentially a loss of control. A pornography addict will struggle with limiting their use. They may intend to look for only a few minutes, but then spend hours using porn. Addicts often comment that they are never really sure how long their using episodes may last.
  5. Attempts to control use- Pornography addicts may swear over and over again that they will never use again, but they will inevitably find themselves using again. They may try to come up with ways to prevent themselves from looking at porn, but they will inevitably find ways around these measures.
  6. Excessive time spent acquiring pornography or thinking about using– People who become addicted to pornography find themselves spending more and more time thinking about using it or hunting for new and different porn. This is especially the case for those who are hiding their addiction from family members, which then requires them to spend enormous amounts of time protecting their addiction by hiding it.
  7. Reduced involvement in work, social, or family obligations- Pornography addiction becomes increasingly time consuming as the addiction advances in severity,  withdrawing from obligations as they get in the way of using.

In order to be diagnosed as an addiction, the individual must exhibit three or more of these criteria.

Dealing with the problem is uniquely difficult for pornography addiction for several reasons. For starters, hiding pornography use from a spouse is much easier than hiding substance abuse. As a result, treating the addiction can involve revealing some huge and hurtful secrets. In addition, pornography addiction is far less recognized and exists more in the shadows of our culture. Consequently, there are far fewer support group and treatment options. This is not to say that pornography addiction is a hopeless situation. Dealing with it begins with acknowledging that the problem has gotten out of control and turning control of your life over to God. Seeking help from an addictions counselor, a pastor, or a support group is a good next step. There are several terrific resources available as well. I highly recommend the book: Sampson and the Pirate Monks: Calling Men to Authentic Brotherhood by Nate Larkin. It is the best book I have read on the subject that is written for the average man.

Pornography addiction is treatable and there is hope. Further, as long as the addiction is out of control and untreated, the addict will live with a significant degree of fear and shame. There is also a constant danger of discovery, particularly by any children who live in the home. Early exposure to pornography by a parent is very common among addicts, largely because kids find their way into all sorts of things that you never intend for them to get into. Taking the first difficult steps toward dealing with addiction are difficult, but worthwhile once the painful early stages have been worked through.

For its part, the church needs to learn to look past the inclination to judge, protect the privacy of those seeking help, and learn to offer help to addicts who are seeking help. This may require specialized training and some uncomfortable topics being addressed from the pulpit at times, but its part of our calling to be salt and light to the world.
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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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Raising a Real World Superhero Part 1: Modeling the Life You Want them to Live

My daughter loves superheroes, not unlike 3/4 of the other small children in the country. She loves watching Batman cartoons, along with the Avengers, Superman, Wonder Woman, and almost anyone else who wears a cape and fights bad guys. As a dad, I love that she is excited by characters that fight against injustice and stand for right. I want my kids to embody these qualities in their lives.IMG_0277 I pray that they become people of integrity – who courageously live their lives based on their beliefs. I want my son and daughter to do great things and live their lives in ways that inspire others to greatness. Truth be told, I doubt my kids will ever fight villains, but as we grow up and put more simplified versions of the world away, we come to recognize that real heroes often do far more ordinary things – everyday – for the duration of their lives.
I have spoken to people who indicate that they would selflessly do great things if the opportunity arose, but act selfishly in many other aspects of life. They say things like: I would give money to the poor – if I had more money than I could ever spend. The basic gist being that heroic action would be on the agenda if the opportunity ever arises. I have conversed with countless individuals in orange jumpsuits living behind locked doors who swear that they would sacrifice their lives for their families. My response has always been the same: “You say you would give your life for your family, but you refuse to live the same life for them.” Many of them sadly acknowledge that they had wound up incarcerated because they were busy doing what they considered to be important, while leaving family to fend for themselves. A proper hero in a family doesn’t engage in one-time heroic acts. Rather, he is a father who leads spiritually, works hard every day, acts lovingly toward his wife, and spends time talking to, teaching, and loving his children. This manner of hero is far more important because he is making the next generation of heroes. There is a basic truth about children that most parents recognize, but is often not regarded with the appropriate gravity. That truth is that children learn a great deal through observation and imitation. This is most obvious when you look at children and see their parents in facial expressions or mannerisms. They learn these things by mirroring their parents. Children learn values, beliefs, communication patterns, behavioral tendencies, etc. by observing and imitating those they spend the most time with. This is particularly important of the father, who plays a unique and nearly irreplaceable role in the family. Raising a superhero doesn’t start with some crazy trick or technique. Rather, it begins with a great deal of mundane, repetitive modeling of behaviors that are in keeping with the core values that constitute a hero. There are several areas where this is particularly important.
  1. Spirituality- The father’s participation and leadership in family spiritual life is vital because of the father’s enormous influence on the family. Consistent religious practice that is discussed openly with the family is central to raising children that live out those beliefs. This component of life is particularly important because religious beliefs serve as a philosophical foundation for all other values, beliefs, and practices. Further, it is the aspect of life that is concerned with eternal, transcendent matters. I know many men who contend that they hold deep religious convictions in their hearts and minds, but spend little time demonstrating them outwardly or intentionally teaching their children to do so. This results in children who never learn the value or priority of concern for eternal issues.abbey
  2. Relationally- One of the surest ways to encourage healthy relationships in your children’s future is by engaging in healthy, emotionally-open relationships with them. Daughters learn how to be loved through their connection to their dads. A young lady who grows up thirsting for her father’s affection, but never having the need properly met, will seek to meet that need in their future romantic relationships. The problem is that it is impossible for a husband to emotionally replace a father. This can also result in a daughter pursuing relationships with emotionally distant men, then trying to win their love. For young men, lack of emotional connection with and approval from their father can often result in them seeking to demonstrate their manhood through other means, like achieving success in life, attempts at manliness through physical dominance, etc. It is a vacuum that can alter a young man’s perception of their own manhood for life.
  3. Communication- The style of communication employed by the adults in a household will shape the ways their children will communicate. Direct, firm, honest, loving communication will tend to result in children who grow up to communicate in the same manner. Families who communicate in cutting or sarcastic remarks will produce adults who communicate the same way. Families who respond to any slight or offense with yelling or volatile emotional displays will train children to do likewise. Many couples do not consider what they are training their kids to do when they argue. Raising a child with healthy communication skills is largely a matter of modeling healthy communication.
  4. Values- A father who models a strong value system for their children through intentionally living out his work ethic, will tend to result in kids who take pride in their work. A father who puts effort forth to teach his children to stand up for the helpless and does so in his daily activity, will raise children who believe that protecting the helpless is important. Parents who read, and read to their children, will tend to raise kids who read. Kids learn the values that their parents model and teach.
  5. Time- The master key to the whole effort of raising a real world hero is time spent. The positive influence a parent wields in their child’s life is directly proportional to the time they spend investing in them. Parents, and fathers in particular, who spend time playing, talking, praying, eating, or engaged in any other activity with their kids will more effectively shape their lives.
These are just a few of the many areas it is important to focus effort on in the pursuit of positively impacting the lives of your children. The important concept to understand, which underlies every aspect of this list, is that you have to be the person you want your children to strive to become.
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