This page provides expanded dialog based on my interviews with Lauren Westbrook & Matt Williams on the “Parenting 101” segment of WAFB’s morning news show. The segment airs around 6:15 a.m. on Tuesdays. If you appreciate the conversations, please let me know. (Roger@hopeforyourfamily.com) Also, submit a topic for the segment by filling in the contact form to the right with your name, email address, and suggestions/questions. I look forward to interacting with you!
While I am no longer a monthly regular on a set day, I still appear from time to time on WAFB.
I am now posting all my Parenting 101 articles/interview points in the main body of my blog, rather than on this page. For newer material than you find on this page, simply click on the tag for “parenting” to the right (or any topic you like) or enter your specific search term in the site search box to the right.
Click on my “CHALLENGES” page to read a variety of very brief practical challenges regarding parenting, marriage, and more.
Are you parenting by faith or fear? Strength or weakness? Hope or doubt? Check out this post to hear what “Coach Morpheus” has to say about parenting well.
September 5, 2008 – Family Life After Gustav
I am struck with the great irony of this post as I offer some positive guidance to families who, like my own, have been thrown off track by the wind and rain of Hurricane Gustav – most of whom don’t have electricity or internet access yet, and so cannot read this post today when they may need it most. Well, for those of you who do find this post, and who really need some encouragement for your self and your family – know that you are in my prayers and hopes. Following these links are some basic tips to help you and your family keep your sanity and remain as hopeful as possible during this extended time of uncertainty, recovery, and stifling muggy heat:
1. Get your rest. I know it is hard to sleep in a house without electricity in this early September heat of South Louisiana. But I urge you to make it a priority for your self and your children to get as much sleep as you can, so your body, mind, and family can function at its best. As miserable as you may be feeling right now, it will only get worse if you sacrifice sleep night after night and become increasingly exhausted.
2. Stay active. As with getting restful sleep, I know this oppressive heat and humidity can make it hard to find the motivation to get physically active. However, I believe you will find it more than worth the effot during this season of hightened stress and challenge. Physical exercise is a great way to keep your body and mind feeling healthier, keep your spirits up, and strengthen your immune system. And these are all benefits we really need right now.
3. Maintain routines. Sure, many of our routines have been obliterated by Gustav, but we need to fight to re-establish whatever positive routines we can for our families. The structure and security of routines is so important for all of us to stay positive, especially for young children. So sit down to eat family meals together, even if it is a weird hodge-podge of defrosted items from the freezer. Play that board game or card game together by candlelight. Keep that bedtime ritual of reading and praying together. These family rituals remind us that we are still the same family and life goes on, even after our favorite old tree seemed to turn against us on Labor Day.
4. Start with a game plan. Begin each day with a brief family conversation about your plans for the day. Who is going on the gas run this morning? Who is going for ice? How long do you plan to work around the neighborhood? How long do you plan to hang out and play at the church that has power and fun activities for the kids? Who needs their cell phone charged? etc.
5. Finish with highlights. End each day with a family conversation where each individual is invited to share their best experience of the day or what they are most grateful for. Our four year old has kept our spirits up by reminding us of how cool it was that the huge oak tree that broke apart and fell across our street contained a wild beehive and was full of honeycomb (which several of us enjoyed for breakfast Tuesday morning), not to mention how much fun he has been having with all the extra play time with old and new friends at the air conditioned church gym.
6. Help someone else. Along with physical exercise, serving someone else in need has long been recognized as a powerful way to overcome stress, discouragement, and depression. And let’s face it – there are a bazillion opportunites to serve folks in need during this time. You don’t need to go on some international “mission trip,” or even across town. Check around your own neighborhood. I guarantee you there is someone who would be so grateful to you and your family for helping them clean up their yard, patch up their roof, clean out their house and refrigerator, help them get gasoline, ice, medicine, or other essentials, and the list is endless. You may be amazed at the positive impact of serving others on your family, their family, your community, and our entire state.
7. Stay spiritually centered. This is such an important time for families to practice your spiritual faith, which gives tremendous security and purpose to children and adults alike. And staying connected with your faith community can bring so much joy, hope, opportunities to serve and be served, and continuity of life. And folks, if you haven’t been to church in a long time, or maybe never, I guarantee there are churches all over that would be thrilled to welcome you and make room for you in their family right now. So set the alarm on your cell phone or pda this Sunday morning, get our your Bible or other inspirational books, have those family devotionals, and keep praying every day. If you aren’t sure what to pray, I’ll offer two model prayers that have been life anchors for millions:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever. Amen.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardships as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things right if I will surrender to His will. That I may be reasonaby happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen
With Hope for Your Family,
August 26, 2008 – “Reading With Your Children”
The benefits of reading to and with your children are MANY, from infants all the way through adolescence. Here are some resources to help you make the most of this precious family time:
May you and your children enjoy the stories of others as you create your own together!
March 25, 2008 – “Expecting Respect”
Following is my response to a question recently submitted from a parent through the Parenting 101 page on WAFB’s website. Thanks to this mom for allowing me to share the basics of her situation and my response, so others can learn how to better address a very common parenting challenge.
“I have a very “outgoing” 5 year old in Kindergarten. She is aware of the rules at school, and does her work with excellent marks. The problem is she won’t stop talking in class, and sometimes sasses the teacher when she tries to correct her. I really just need help in the respect area of authority it seems.”
First of all, believe me – you are not alone! The bad news is you are raising your daughter in a culture that largely tolerates behavior you and her teachers recognize to be disrespectful. The good news is you have already recognized it while she is only 5 years old. You can now steer her to the right path for a lifetime of respectfulness – which will almost certainly bring her greater peace, enjoyment, and success along the way.
The first key to putting an end to your daughter’s sassy ways is communicating with authority that you will no longer tolerate disrespect from her. From now on you will expect her to be respectful to all adults and authorities in her life. There is a huge difference between wishing she will change and expecting her to be respectful. Expecting her to be respectful means speaking to her (and even looking at her) with a clear, consistent message that you are in charge – not her, and that you WILL NOT TOLERATE disrespect from her. It also means truly believing she will respond correctly now, not skeptically hoping she might change some day.
You may be surprised how dramatically she responds to your newfound authority, but this will likely not provide the total solution. You will have to back up your authority with swift consequences that provide the painful lessons she needs to mend her ways. I recommend asking her teacher for regular feedback before you begin this plan, explaining to the teacher your resolve to correct your child’s disrespectful habits. This will help ensure she is not simply changing at home, while getting away with disrespect elsewhere. Don’t ask for much time from her teacher, just a simple statement of her behavior and attitude for the day/week. As to the specifics of the consequences, there is no set formula for the perfect consequence. The most effective forms of correction vary by children’s personalities and experiences. Just be sure you:
1. Choose something you believe will really cause her to feel a reasonable measure of “suffering.” I don’t mean harm, but leaving her feeling she has lost or endured something enough to make a real impression on her. It could be missing playtime with friends, losing a favorite toy for a day or two, losing screen time (TV, computer, etc.) for a day, or anything else that will really dethrone your little princess and put her back in her rightful place.
2. Enforce the consequence you have chosen. If you allow yourself to “give in,” all bets are off and she will certainly continue in her misbehavior.
3. Be ready to increase the painful consequences if she argues with you, defies you, or flippantly dismisses you.
4. For best results, don’t simply enforce your plan of correction in the really “big” situations. She needs a consistent message that respect is the norm, and even “minor” disrespect is no longer tolerated. Smaller situations call for smaller consequences, but still should be addressed consistently. For example, I recently took my four year old out to lunch and decided to treat us both to a cookie. One cookie at this restaurant is big enough to split, and I chose a sugar cookie, knowing his favorite is chocolate chip. When offered the cookie, he began to whine and fuss that it wasn’t chocolate. It wasn’t really a big problem, but I did not like his disrespectful, ungrateful tone, and I certainly didn’t want to give in to his demand and put him in charge. I calmly told him this was the only cookie I was buying, and if he calmed down and spoke respectfully, he could have some – otherwise he would get no cookie. He calmed down in a few seconds, enjoyed half the cookie, and thanked me for it.
For more on correcting disrespectful behavior, I recommend reading “ScreamFree Parenting” by Hal Edward Runkel and any of John Rosemond’s excellent books on parenting. I am currently reading Rosemond’s recently released “Parenting By The Book.” It is fantastic, particularly for parents of a Christian faith. I have recently begun writing my first book, and hope to have it published early next year. You will also find more helpful suggestions in my recent post, “Responsible Children” on www.hopeforyourfamily.com.
January 22, 2008 – “Raising Responsible Children”
Hopefully, all of us parents want our children to grow up to be personally responsible, morally sound, basically self-sufficient adults who make a positive contribution to society. While there are no guarantees we can make this happen, we do have a great deal of power to lead our children on this path. If you are frequently frustrated by your children’s attitudes and actions of disrespect, laziness, sloppiness, disobedience, etc., TAKE HEART! Here are the five basic keys to steering your kids onto the right path – the path of personal responsibility:
1. EXPECT responsibility in your children. This is NOT the same as wishing, pleading, or even hoping your children will be responsible. Expecting them to be responsible means walking away when it is their time to work, rather than hovering over them to ensure they get it done and get it done right. Expecting responsibility in your kids sends a powerful message of how much you believe in them and their abilities – something children need like air and water. Whether your children are three, ten, fourteen, or eighteen, this principle will go so far to empower them in personal responsible!
2. Clearly communicate your expectations to your children. It is so important to explain your expectations to your children with authority and specificity. Speaking with authority is tied directly to the previous point. It means expecting your children to follow your instruction and leading, because you believe in them. It also means KNOWING you are the primary authority in your children’s lives. How many times have you engaged your children in verbal/emotional battles of will, hoping you will emerge victorious, with your kids coming to a greater respect for your authority? How often does it work out the way you were hoping? How drained are you when you finally get there with them? When you speak to your children from a solid position of authority, not waiting for the results to tell you if you really are the authority, they are far more likely to respect you and follow your leadership.
3. Stop taking responsibility for your children. OK, I know this one may throw you for a loop at first, but think it through with me. You know your children are responsible when they take responsibility for their actions – right? And taking responsibility for their actions means taking responsibility for a series of specific tasks – right? So, if your child has a task to complete, and you are watching over them and immediately intervening to ensure it is done correctly, who does it sound like is taking responsibility for the task? And if you are really the one bearing responsibility for the work, how can they really assume true responsibility for it? So, whether your child is dealing with caring for a pet, completing household chores, tackling homework, or maintaining that first car – consider the possibility that his/her irresponsibility may be a reflection of your over-responsibility.
4. Allow your children to suffer the consequences of poor choices. Loving parents don’t like to see their children suffer. It hurts us. But suffering the consequences of poor choices is one of life’s greatest teachers. We must learn to love our children enough to look at the bigger picture beyond this moment of temporary suffering. Painful lessons typically lead to real learning and changed behavior, sometimes even changed attitudes. “Getting off easy” teaches children it is ok to keep doing things just the way they are, setting their feet more firmly on the path of irresponsibility and disrespect. For parents of young children, check to see how many times you play the “1…2…2 1/2…I’m not kidding…Don’t make me come over there…OK…3!” game. Stretching out that three count to a consequence is a reflection of this type of parental rescuing, which simply leads to more and more required effort from parents to persuade children to act. Frankly, the counting to three game can often be a reflection of parental difficulty with any or all of the previous three points, even when parents do a straight three count to consequences. Ask yourself what is really the point of counting aloud to three. Parents of older children / teenagers, how often do you find yourself giving in on a stated consequence, then feeling frustrated and angry at your children / teens for not respecting you and your rules or for being irresponsible? Some lovingly imposed suffering will go a long way to cure this ill!
5. Be available to help your children process and learn from their choices and results. When you see or hear your child expressing their frustration at the suffering that resulted from a poor choice, be ready to genuinely show your compassion for them. This doesn’t mean apologizing for enforcing their suffering, which is a natural result of poor choices, disobedience, and misbehavior. It does mean recognizing their frustration, and letting them know you truly hope they get better results – for their sake. If you communicate this message with sarcasm or judgmental preaching, you will effectively shut down your connection and lose influence and leadership of your children. If you are able to genuinely connect with them, then lovingly process with them how the situation could have gone better for them, they will be better equipped to take responsibility for themselves and make a better choice next time. In addition, it is amazing to see how children, especially teens, respond to parents’ stories of the lessons they learned “the hard way” in their own lives. (Notice how many of your best lessons were learned “the hard way,” which simply reflects suffering the consequences of poor choices and taking personal responsibility to face those consequences!) They love to hear about your mistakes, because it communicates: a realistic humility that you aren’t perfect, enough personal strength and courage to expose your mistakes and weaknesses without shame, and a reason to hear and respect your wisdom and leadership besides the simple “I told you so.” (However, there is nothing wrong with a steady diet of “I told you so,” as it is just a simple reflection of points 1 and 2 above.)
November 27, 2007 – “Want to be a Great Parent? Work on Your Marriage.”
Q – Sure, everyone would like to have a great marriage, but what does that have to do with parenting?
A – One of the most essential elements of life for children to grow up healthy and competent and responsible is a sense of security. Security is a foundational need for children, teens, and adults. We all need to know there is some sense of predictability to the world, and that we are not vulnerable to every bad thing that could happen. For children, there is no more significant source of either security or insecurity than the relationship between their parents (or those who are actively raising them). When children know in their hearts that Mom and Dad are connected, stable, and have a loving, cooperative relationship, they can go to bed at night and wake up in the morning with a basic level of security. “Problems may come, but at least I know Mom and Dad are together, leading and taking care of me and our family.” However, when chaos, distance, or disrespect are the adjectives that best describe the relationship between a child’s parents, step-parents, or other primary caretakers, they live in a state of anxious insecurity. Not the best climate in which to grow up!
Q – OK, so maybe I should work on my marriage a bit more, but my relationship with my child is still the most important one, right?
A – Wrong! Sure, having children brings tremendous responsibilities into our lives, as well as tremendous joys and tremendous challenges. And we should live with a willingness to work hard to fulfill our responsibilities to our children, to the best of our abilities. However, when we allow our relationships with our children to take a higher priority than our relationships with our spouses, everyone loses. In the short term, our kids may be thrilled with their top position, and we may enjoy the feedback we get from them more than the challenges that come through sharing greater intimacy and energy with our spouses. In the long term, however, this can lead to a weakening of the marriage (stressful for everyone) and to an attitude and lifestyle in our children that they are the center of the universe (I’ve created a monster!). As destructive and unhealthy as this pattern is, it has somehow become the norm of American culture, as parents feel more and more pressure to give their kids everything they want and to basically orbit their lives around their children. It’s not working, folks!
Q – Keeping my children as a high priority but moving my spouse into a position of even higher priority sounds like a lot of work and stress. Where am I supposed to find more time and energy?
A- Once you put your marriage relationship in its proper place of priority above your children, I believe you will begin to find yourself feeling more energized and less stressed, especially as you and your spouse work together with a greater partnership as parents. Test me on this for three months and see whether or not I know what I’m talking about here. For more help with this challenging, rewarding work, give me a call at 387-2287. I also highly recommend “ScreamFree Parenting” (book) and “ScreamFree Marriage” (cd) by Hal Runkel, both available at www.screamfree.com, and “Parenting by the Book” by John Rosemond.
October 30, 2007 – “Have a Healthy Holiday Season”
Q – As much as we may look forward to the holiday season, parents all know it can be a very stressful/difficult time of year. What can parents do in their holiday planning to help make it as healthy and positive a time as possible?
A – Taking into account your children’s ages and interest levels, include them in holiday planning and preparations. Parents often set themselves up for trouble by making holiday plans without getting input from kids, sometimes even without even realistically considering the kids. Do your best to make holiday plans that will work for the whole family. This doesn’t mean you hand over the decisions to your children, but seeking and considering their input can really help minimize some unnecessary conflict and stress. If kids are too young to offer meaningful input, be sure to consider their limitations, interests, and abilities in your plans.
Remember, often times less is more. Leave room for rest, relaxation, and spontaneity during your holiday season. Planning and structure are good things, no doubt about it. However, don’t try to do so much that you get to the end of your holiday and vacation time, and wish you had vacation time to rest from your vacation time. Make sure to celebrate the traditions that are important to you and your children, and be willing to let go of traditions that may be low on meaning but big on time and energy (stress). If your family doesn’t really have meaningful traditions for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, etc, try some new things this year and see if they are worth repeating in years to come. Such traditions could center on religious beliefs and family values, relationships among family and friends, special meals or other gatherings, fun times with gifts or stockings, special games played, connecting in special ways with the community, or so many other things that can bring rich meaning to the holidays.
Q – What traps should parents be careful to avoid during the upcoming holidays?
A – Of course, the big temptation for so many folks is to overspend – especially when it comes to buying Christmas presents. The reasons for this are many: “keeping up with the Joneses,” trying to make up for other problems by getting kids terrific presents, trying to make ourselves feel better through spending, and many, many more. Unfortunately, Mastercard, Visa, and the gang aren’t in business to make us feel good – they are in it for the money. And that post-Christmas bill will most certainly find us. Creating more stress through overspending is a temporary fix for the holidays that is typically not worth it in the end. With some creativity and good self-discipline, parents can make better choices that won’t be so costly in the long run.
Another trap to avoid is allowing yourselves to be pressured into making choices during the holidays that are really more about living up to someone else’s expectations than they are about you making your own best decisions. Whether the pressure comes from your kids, your parents, your friends, your church, or whoever else – parents do well to stay in charge of their own decisions and offer strong leadership to their children by avoiding the pressure trap. And speaking of pressures, the holiday season often creates enough stress to tempt many people to turn to alcohol or drugs as a way of coping. If this is a problem for you, I urge you to get help – for your own sake, as well as your kids’ and your family’s sake. I highly recommend Alcoholics Anonymous as a way to get help, but wherever you turn, get help somewhere.
Q – Some parents are not only dealing with the usual stress of the holiday season, but also facing issues of loss and grief in their lives or in the lives of their children. What warning signs should they look for in their children and family as indications that they are struggling with grief?
A – The holidays can be a particularly difficult time for dealing with grief. If your kids seem to be quieter than usual, this may indicate a struggle on their part. On the other hand, some kids may express grief through anger, short tempers, or irritable moodiness. Also, as parents, you may find yourself easily overwhelmed, frustrated, or agitated during the holiday season. If you or your children seem to be struggling with grief this holiday season, I would urge you to reach out for help. This could include professional counseling, conversations with a pastor or priest, seeking help from trusted family members or friends, or even finding a helpful support group.
Q – What are some basic tips for parents to help their kids and families cope with grief in healthy ways, especially during this time of year?
A – It is so important to pay attention to your kids if you know grief could be an issue right now. Listen to them. Sometimes this is the most valuable thing you can do for them. Allow them to express their emotions openly and honestly, and be careful not to react harshly or in ways that would lead them to close up and hold it in. If you and your children have lost someone in recent months, allow them to be remembered and included in your traditions and holiday gatherings – even if it is painful. It’s ok to cry together during the holidays. It may even be the most meaningful thing you do during this year’s holiday season. And make it a priority to take good care of yourself – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is good for you, AND for good for your family. This may mean doing less, making more time for exercise or other self-care activities, going to support groups or AA meetings, or any other things you need to do to take care of you.
Remember the wisdom of the airline safety speech – put on your own oxygen mask first. Your children need you to be in good shape, so you can effectively lead them and provide for their needs. For more ideas for a healthy holiday season, check out my “Surviving the Holidays” page.
I hope you and your family have a Happy Thanksgiving, a Merry Christmas, and a healthy holiday season – whatever holidays you will be facing and celebrating together!
September 25, 2007 – “Encouraging Healthy Friendships In Your Children’s Lives”
Q – I want my children to have healthy friendships – not to become isolated and withdrawn, but also not to fall in with the wrong crowd. What do I do? I hear and see so many stories that really worry me!
A – First of all, referring you back to my July segment on Parenting 101, I urge you to let go of attempts to control your children and focus your energy on being the best possible influence. Certainly, the area of friendships is a very important one in your children’s lives, and you are to be commended for being aware of this and wanting to lead them well.
Q – My child is still fairly young, how do I lead or influence her/him in developing healthy friendships at this stage?
A – This may sound a bit contradictory, but remember that at this point, you do have a greater measure of decision-making authority during this time than during the later years of adolescence. As you make decisions about activities, events, and environments for your younger child, evaluate the other parents as much as you do the other child. Talk to the parents of your child’s potential friends about their experiences and perspectives on parenting. Do what you can to encourage friendships between your child and others whose parents have philosophies and lifestyles you respect. And remember that when your children are young, you really don’t have to offer big explanations about your decisions regarding their activities and such. Be authoritative – with a healthy mixture of compassion and firmness. They need you to be in charge, whether they realize it or not!
It is also important during the early years of friendship development for parents to make time to be present and involved in the activities that build these young relationships. In other words, don’t make it the norm to simply drop your child off at an activity and pick him/her up afterward. Participate as much as you can. Talk with the kids. Be hands-on. Get on their level. Do what you can to help your child begin establishing deeper connections with a few friends, rather trying to make sure they get to be a part of every potential social circle. More personal growth and development tends to happen in the context of ongoing close friendships than in the process of jumping from one social scene to another.
Q – My child is in the adolescent years. What should I be doing or not doing?
A – It is still important to work on open dialog with the parents of your child’s friends. However, keep in mind that with adolescence comes a growing level of independence and decision-making on the part of your child. Now it becomes even more critical to focus on influence, rather than control. Be aware of what Chap Clark refers to as “the world beneath.” Basically, this refers to a socio-cultural space that has been created by today’s adolescents, greatly facilitated by advancing communication and networking technology, where they can retreat from the pressures and expectations placed on them by the adult world. It is a world where they create the language and the rules – a world where they are in charge. It is so important for parents of teens to be aware of the existence and basic dynamics of this world.
Ideally, your teens can learn to live in both the “world beneath” of adolescence and the “world above” of adulthood and larger culture. They don’t have to retreat to the world beneath to stay. However, two parental factors can push them in that direction: ignorance of the significance of the world beneath and trying to bar them entrance altogether. Respectfully get to know your adolescent’s friends and discuss with her/him why these friends and networks are so important. Lead and influence through respectful, compassionate conversation.
Q – Should I do my best to make our house the cool hangout?
A – Yes and no. Do your very best to promote a home/family environment that is physically and emotionally comfortable and safe for your children and their friends, while maintaining important rules and boundaries. At the same time, don’t get caught up in trying to be some kind of fun-factory. Provide some reasonable choices of things that are interesting to the kids, and put your emphasis on that atmosphere of safety and comfort.
Q – What would you say is the most important thing here – what is the heart of the matter?
A – Whatever the age or stage of your children, be willing to experience your children’s activities, interests, and friendships without either defensive, judgmental rejection or taking over through over-involvement. Be the kind of parent your children and their friends can both respect and feel comfortable opening up to.
August 28, 2007 – “The Importance of Structure and Rituals for Children and Families”
Q – OK, we hear a lot about how kids need structure and routine, especially young children. What is that all about? Why is this so important to them?
A – Young children are learning all about the world around them at a tremendously rapid pace. At the same time, they are learning who they are, with a growing desire to have as much control as they possibly can over their bodies, their choices, their relationships, and their environment. Let’s face it, that desire never really goes away – even throughout the course of adulthood. Growing in this kind of control gives the child (and adult) a greater sense of security in the midst of a world that is constantly changing and challenging us. Living in an environment of orderly structure and predictable routine helps to strengthen this sense of security and mastery, because it allows children to focus on fewer choices and challenges at a given moment. The more choices and challenges one must face at a time, the greater will be the level of anxiety and stress. And at the same time, creating a reasonably predictable pattern of family life through routine and ritual lets a child know that in the face of unpredictable, unexpected challenges, they can rest in the familiarity of certain things their family does with regularity.
Q – So, structure and routine are important for young children. But what about older kids and teenagers? Aren’t they always eager for something new and outside the “boring confines” of family togetherness?
A – Certainly, as children grow older and move through the transitional years of adolescence, they have a decreasing need for the kind of structured days that are so important in the healthy, secure development of their early childhood experience. However, even as they grow in competence, responsibility, and independence, they continue to need sources of security to which they can return regularly. They need to know home is still home, and it remains a place of refuge in the midst of the many adventures, risks, disappointments, and decisions they are facing daily in their constantly expanding world.
And providing a consistent family/home life of enjoyable structure and routine maximizes the opportunity for parents to influence their kids at all ages, from the earliest days until they launch out on their own. When children and families look forward to regular rituals and routines together, parents have golden opportunities to share teachable moments and conversations, leading kids along their life paths as best they can. Parents who do not intentionally create an environment of structure and enjoyable togetherness may find themselves watching from an emotional and physical distance as their growing kids pull further away as they struggle through tough decisions, looking elsewhere for much needed guidance or direction.
Q – How do you recommend creating the kind of healthy family structure and routines you are advocating today?
A – One of the important places to begin is to approach parenting as being synonymous with leadership. Strong, effective, respected leaders consider what is best for their organization (family), and exercise clear authority as they make decisions, guidelines, and policies for their people. Parenting with authority (of a loving, considerate, encouraging kind) is so important! As good leaders, parents should consider what is best for their children and family life, and make decisions based on these considerations. Today’s parents are so often pressured to be led by the wants of their short-sighted, self-gratifying children or the expectations of a short-sighted, self-gratifying culture. Part of creating a strong family structure and routine is setting reasonable limits on commitments that pull family members away. While it is very healthy for children and teens to have activities and relationships outside of family and home, the “norm” in our culture is becoming so overfull and fast-paced that it leaves very little opportunity for real family connection. Everyone is just too busy, tired, and stressed. I recommend limiting children’s extracurricular commitments to one activity during any given “season,” and even taking one season a year to rest from any such involvement. And, while it will certainly vary from family to family, here is a small list of ways you can provide the kind of routine structure that helps kids of all ages to thrive:
– Have a family meal time together at least three times a week. – Have a Saturday morning ritual that you do every week (cook pancakes, play a game, pray together, etc). – Have a bedtime routine. – Turn off TVs, cell phones, laptops, i-pods, etc. in the car. – Go to church weekly as a family. – Take an annual family vacation. – Go to Baskin Robbins for Tuesday dollar scoop night. – Take an annual family retreat. – Take regular fishing/camping/hunting trips together, as a family or in pairs or other family “sub-units.” – Play “High/Low” at the same time each week (What were the high and low points of your day/week?) – Go on regular walks outside, either in your neighborhood or in a local park (I’m a big fan of BREC’s Bluebonnet Swamp). – Plant a garden or flower bed and tend it together regularly. – Have a regular quiet time together.
The possibilities are endless! Just look for things that promote healthy, open connections and can be sustained on a regular basis without too much money or effort. And when your children/family grow tired or too old for your routines and rituals, develop new ones that fit who you are growing to be. Remember to give your children opportunities for input as to your family routines and rituals. When they are young, give them a choice between two or three things. As they get older, give them more choices, and do your best to incorporate their ideas.
If you would like more specific guidance or ideas for your family, please feel free to contact me via email (Roger@hopeforyourfamily.com) or by phone (225-387-2287)
July 24, 2007 – “Ingredients of Ideal Parenting:
Calmness, Connection, Consequences, and Authority”
Q – So many parents today feel at a loss for how to “get their children/teens to behave,” feeling like their kids are growing “out of control.” What message do you have for parents who are feeling this way?
A – Give up!!! Give up trying to control them, that is. Even from a very young age, children have a mind of their own and will make their own choices. Rather than attempting to control their behavior (an essentially hopeless endeavor), I want to encourage and empower parents to be the best influence you can possibly be in the lives of your kids.
Q – So, what’s the difference between control and influence? And what’s important about that difference?
A – It is easy as parents to focus on the immediate behavior of your children, doing anything you can to get them to do “the right thing” at this moment. And it can be so frustrating when they don’t! This is what I mean by trying to control them. The goal of parenting should be to actively raise your children toward becoming healthy, moral, responsible adults who make right choices for themselves. And this is best accomplished by influencing and guiding them, without trying to control them.
Q – OK, so what does this different type of influencing look like?
A – First of all, it means letting go of the emotional burden we can unintentionally place on our kids of how they reflect on us. Staying calm and learning to avoid emotionally reactivity is crucial to the challenging and rewarding and priceless task of raising children (See “ScreamFree Parenting” by Hal Runkel). It also means entering into their world to understand the pressures, needs, desires, and challenges of their lives – A VERY DIFFERENT WORLD from the one in which you and I grew up (See “Hurt” or “Disconnected” by Chap Clark). And it means making the most of meaningful consequences to help them learn their lessons. Often times, the best consequences to teach our kids lessons are the ones that naturally follow from their (poor) choices. The trick is not to intervene and rescue them from these consequences to spare them hurt and disappointment – let them learn their lessons, and be there to instruct and encourage in response to their consequences.
Q – What else would you encourage parents to do to influence/lead their children in the right ways?
A – Along with calmness, connection, and consequences – it is essential to parent with authority (See “John Rosemond‘s New Parent Power”). Many parents give up their natural authority out of a desire to please their kids, an effort to keep the peace, or they simply give up in frustration. All organizations work best with strong, clear, caring authority. And this is certainly true in the organization of family life! Even seemingly rebellious teens have a deep need for parents who will exercise clear authority in their lives, hopefully with a calm and deeply caring manner.
Q – What resources do you recommend for parents who may be feeling overwhelmed, or just need some additional guidance?
A – Of course, I am always glad to work with families directly in my counseling practice. Other resources I highly recommend are:
www.rosemond.com (John Rosemond)
www.cpyu.org (Center for Parent/Youth Understanding)
“John Rosemond’s New Parent Power” and other books by John Rosemond
“Disconnected: Parenting Teens in a MySpace World” and “Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers” by Chap & Dee Clark
June 25, 2007 – “Your Kids and MySpace/Facebook”
(Looks like WAFB may not post the video for this one – probably because Jeanne was on vacation this week.)
Q – Why do you think MySpace, Facebook, and other online communities are so hugely popular among adolescents?
A – We live in a culture of a great connection paradox. We have all manner of technological gadgetry to allow us to connect with one another. And yet, on a deeper, more meaningful level, we seem more disconnected than ever. We bare our deepest souls with the entire worldwide web on our blogs, yet don’t know the people who live next door to us. And this paradox may well be hitting adolescents the hardest. They want so desperately to be seen and heard and noticed by someone who cares that they are there. Enter the image, music, video, and interactivity – driven world of MySpace (etc). Our young people now have access to a stage and microphone of worldwide proportion, offering them a tremendous feeling of significance. One of the ways to help prevent them from getting into trouble on MySpace is to actively offer them a healthy sense of significance at home.
Q – So, what is MySpace?
A – MySpace and Facebook are online communities in which individuals can register for a free personal web page that they can completely personalize. Pictures, music, videos (music and YouTube), wallpaper, email, chatting – it’s all there. It’s like a virtual bedroom for adolescents where they can express themselves and share it with whomever they like. These online communities offer the option of a “private” setting, limiting access of the individual’s page to only those given an invitation by the individual. Many kids have huge friend lists, only a handful of whom the child actually knows in real life.
Language tends to get very “edgy” on MySpace, with a high volume of obscenity and profanity – much of which gets expressed through an evolving shorthand language made popular through text messaging. There is also a lot of sexual exploration and expression, with communities forming around common sexual orientations and practices. Also, watch out for “cyberbullying,” a growing epidemic of adolescents using mass communication technology to pick on one another – often in ways that are very damaging.
Online communities such as these can be fun opportunities for self-expression and personal connection for our kids. However, it is ESSENTIAL that we, as parents, stay involved in their lives, educating and empowering them to make wise and moral choices that will serve them well wherever they find themselves.
From what I understand, Facebook is rapidly gaining ground on MySpace, and is becoming more popular with students. However, last I heard (and I’m sure this is already outdated), MySpace is the 4th most active site on the entire worldwide web, as measured by hits per day. That’s a higher ranking than Google!!!
Q – How can I learn more about MySpace?
A – I highly recommend several great resources:
www.mediafamily.org There are many wonderful resources and insights available through this website “MediaWise.” Take your time and look around. Be sure to sign up for the virtual tour of MySpace!
MySpace has a page for parents, offering some great tips and resources. Take advantage of these insider insights!
www.youthroots.com is an alternative to MySpace or Facebook that is designed to work with communities and families of faith. This up and coming social network site is definitely worth looking into!
Click here for a very thorough online dictionary of text message/email/online shorthand lingo. Given how thorough this one is, I’m guessing they keep it up to date. You won’t believe how many there are! You also may be shocked at many of the abbreviations – pretty crude stuff.
“Disconnected: Parenting Teens in a MySpace World” by Chap Clark (just released on July 1). This author previously published a book entitled “Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers.” I cannot recommend this one highly enough! I have not yet read “Disconnected” (it only came out two days ago), but I am very eager to do so – given the author’s credibility and the subject matter.
In addition, ask your adolescent or child to give you a MySpace/Facebook tour. You may be surprised. They might just be eager to show you around! Of course, they may also roll their eyes, mutter some obscenity under their breath, and tell you to get lost. In this case, enlist another young person to give you the guided tour. Just don’t ask your child’s close friend – loyalty is an extremely important quality of adolescent friendships today, and they may think you are asking them to betray your child.
Q – What guidelines should I, as a parent, follow regarding my child on MySpace?
A – Start by signing up for an account for yourself with whichever online community your child is using. You don’t really need to do much of anything with your account, just have one that is active. Then, INSIST your child invite you as a friend on their site. My adolescent clients frequently get mad at me for this one, but I recommend parents do not allow their child to use MySpace/Facebook without offering parents access to their page. Parents, beware of “dummy pages.” This is a very common practice among teens to keep their parents from seeing what they are really doing online. If their page rarely changes appearance, there’s a good chance it isn’t their real page. Also, if they put you off for a day or two before allowing you access, they may be setting up a dummy page for you.
OK, parents, listen up – this is important. If you are going to insist on having access to the space which they consider so sacred and private (from the adult world, anyway), you MUST be respectful of them and their space. You are the parent with the authority – too many parents are too willing to give up this right. However, if you are constantly “hanging out” in their space, or frequently criticizing them about minor issues on their page, you will alienate yourself from them and lose your ability to influence them. If you can take a position of respectful curiosity regarding their online world, you will be amazed how much they may begin to share with you (over time), and how powerfully you can influence their lives for good.
May 22, 2007 – “It’s Camp Time!”
Q – How do I know if my child is ready for a “sleep-away” camp?
A – Most children can handle the away from home camp experience around age 8, 9, or 10. Certainly, your child’s personality is a big factor. Some are more independent, while others are more “homebodies.” However, one of the most important factors is whether or not YOU, the parent, are ready for your child to go away to camp. If the thought of sending your child to a camp away from home makes you nervous, consider starting him/her at a day camp at an earlier age. This can help get both of you ready for the big transition. Also, don’t start with a camp that lasts for a big chunk of the summer – one week is a reasonable length for the first big camp experience.
Q – How can I prepare my child for camp?
A – Talk about it well before the time comes, and keep the conversation positive. Emphasize the fun and the new experiences, adventures, and friendships your child will discover at camp. Empower your child by letting your child know how much you believe in her/him. The two most important skills your child needs to ensure a positive camp experience are both relational: 1. respecting and obeying authorities, and 2. treating others with respect. Obviously, these are attributes that won’t be developed overnight, and should be foundational in the day to day raising and training of children.
Q – Why should I send my child away to camp?
A – There are so many great benefits of the camp experience! Children have an opportunity to develop a greater sense of healthy independence, which will serve them well for life. Many new skills and activities can be learned at camp, from crafts to sports to group games to fun songs and skits. Kids really get to grow in new ways at camp. It is also an opportunity to expose your children to the benefits of healthy mentors – people other than parents that are willing to invest time in kids to help them grow up well. Camp offers the vital element of allowing kids to take risks – both physical and social – in a supervised and encouraging environment. Boys and girls both need the chance to take risks to help them mature and develop a strong sense of self-confidence and positive identity. Another increasingly important element of camp is the break it offers kids from electronic entertainment and gadgetry. No TV, internet, movies, or video games. Trust me, this is a really healthy break for your children and teens. And even if your camp allows cell phones, I strongly recommend keeping them at home. If there is an emergency, believe me, the camp will get in touch with you. Otherwise, you and your child could both benefit from cutting the electronic string for a week or so. Which brings me to the final camp benefit – it offers parents an opportunity to take a parenting vacation. You deserve it, and shouldn’t feel guilty for enjoying it. It is healthy for you and for your kids.
Q – What kind of camp choices are there?
A – Tons. There are day camps and overnight camps from a week to a month to a whole summer. There are traditional camps that emphasize teamwork and crafts and general fun. There are church-oriented camps that offer the same great opportunities as traditional camps, with the additional element of moral/religious instruction. There are sport camps and band camps and scout camps and art camps and horse riding camps. There are various camps for children with specific special needs. There are camps with narrow age groups and camps with a wide range of ages. There are camps with all adult counselors and camps that offer teens an opportunity to transition from camper to counselor – another great camp growth experience.
To find out about many different possibilities for your kids, check out this link from Baton Rouge Parents Magazine or this link from The Advocate listing some of the local camp choices. You may also want to check out BREC’s website, and the Lousiana page of MySummerCamps, or just explore online – there are so many to choose from.
And be sure you check out my very favorite camp in the area, Camp Smiling Acres! If you are interested in sending your child to a week (or two or three) of camp where they will have trustworthy leadership and mentors, engage in tons of fun activities, games, sports, and crafts, learn fun new songs, build great relationships, and receive sound Christian life lessons, look no further than Camp Smiling Acres, located nearby in Greensburg, LA. Just look how much fun I had last year!
April 24, 2007
“The Growing Problem of Self-Injury”
Q – Why does this problem seem to be growing so much in recent years?
A – A couple of main reasons. First, adolescents today are feeling more hurt and abandoned by adults than any previous generation in American history. (I recommend reading Chap Clark’s painfully insightful book, “Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenager.”) So many of our young people have been exposed to so much more than they are equipped to handle, yet have increasingly less active guidance from loving, invested adults in their lives. For many, the physical hurt of self-injury is a tangible way of expressing on the outside the emotional hurt they are feeling inside. Another major reason for the increase in reports of self-injury is the media exposure itself. Young people see it on movies or TV and find graphic images and ideas about self-injury on websites, then try it out for themselves. This can actually lead to something very like an addiction.
Q – Why self injury? Is this a suicide attempt? What is it about?
A – IT IS NOT A SUICIDE ATTEMPT. In fact, as difficult as it may be for many to understand, many use self-injury as a coping tool to keep from attempting suicide. There are several motivations that can drive self-injury. Some feel so much pain, shame, or confusion inside that they use this as a way of “releasing” those feelings, letting them out through the cuts, burns, or other injuries. Others feel so numb that they injure themselves just to feel alive, and the pain and/or blood is a vivid affirmation that they are still breathing. Some essentially become addicted to the euphoric high produced when their bodies release chemicals into their bloodstream as a result of the injury – the endorphins and catecholemines actually produce a numbing sensation like that of the “runner’s high.”
Q – What warning signs should parents be looking for?
– wearing long sleeves or pants at “inappropriate times”
– obsession with objects such as razors, knives, glass, lighters, or erasers (used to create friction burns)
– listening to music with violent or pain-related lyrics or album covers
– visiting websites with a focus on self-injury, cutting, “pro-ana” (pro-anorexia), or similar themes (Parents, please check your children’s internet history regularly, even though they may get angry with you!)
– an anxious or angry insistence on privacy, beyond what is normal for adolescence (I know, this one is hard to gauge.)
– a sudden avoidance of a specific person, group, or situation (this may be an indication that some type of abuse has occurred.)
Q – What can parents do to help a self-injury child?
A – It is essential to calm yourself before intervening with you child. If you are frightful, angry, or shaming, it will make the problem much worse for your child. Ask them what has been going on, and how they are feeling. Listen to their answers without getting caught up in emotional reactivity. Lovingly respond with calm support. Contact a helping professional right away. This may be a licensed marriage and family therapist, social worker, professional counselor, or psychologist. With the right professional guidance, the most essential key to healing for most self-injuring teens or children is a calm, supportive, honest, loving connection with their parents.
Q – What resources do you recommend?
A – Some excellent links are available on the lower right side of my website, under “self-injury links.” In addition, look at the “self-injury” page in my recommended reading section at the top right of the screen.
March 13, 2007
“Tune In Before You Turn It Off”
Q – What do you do when you can’t stand your kids’ music (or other entertainment)?
A – Remember to focus more on your child/teen than on the sound of their music. Think of it as a way of listening in on their thoughts, and don’t get caught up dwelling on the sound.
Q – Yes, but what if their music choices are just plain awful?
A – That awful noise may be a cry of help. Find out the names of their favorite artists and songs, then look up the lyrics online. http://www.azlyrics.com/ is a good source. If the words are shocking, take the time to calm down before going back to your child to discuss them. If you come across as shocked or disgusted or angry or condemning, you will turn off your child from your guidance. CALMLY ask them what they like about their music and how they relate to it. If you hear some hurt or anger or depression or other difficult feelings from them, ask them what it’s like to feel that way. Connect with them and encourage them. Believe it or not, they will be so glad you did.
Q – That’s fine for connecting with them, but I don’t want to encourage them listening to some of this garbage. How do I get them to make better choices?
A – Practice “judo parenting.” In judo, you are taught to connect with your opponent and redirect their energy, rather than fighting against them. This is a great model for parenting. If your kids are making poor choices with their entertainment, you should be concerned, and they need you to help redirect them. However, this redirecting will be most effective for the long haul of their lives if you first connect with them where they are, then move into helping them learn for themselves how to make good choices. When you make the choices for them, you actually prevent them from learning to do it for themselves.
Q – I’m going to need help with this. What are some helpful resources?
A – There are some great online and book resources to help with this important work in your relationship with your kids. Click here for one of my recent posts on this topic, “Listen, and Learn.” I also recommend:
“ScreamFree Parenting: Raising Your Kids By Keeping Your Cool” by Hal E. Runkel
“Movie Nights: 25 Movies to Spark Spiritual Discussions with Your Teen” by Bob Smithouser
January 30, 2007
“Help with Parenting a Strong-Willed Child”
My basic premise is that this has become such a common problem because we, as parents, have been duped into thinking that our top priorities in raising our children should be helping build their self-esteem and making sure they like us and enjoy us. A “strong-willed child” is almost always a normal child that is insisting on being the authority in his/her own life, because the parents have not firmly established that position of authority themselves. All of us are born with a desire to be in control of our own lives. It’s just that it takes a few years (say, 18 or so) before we are smart enough or experienced enough to effectively handle the driver’s seat of our lives on our own.
This is not to say that parents should try to control their children for 18 years, then cut them loose. You can’t control your children. However, you can be the authority in their lives, and you can control your leadership of the relationship with them. By being the authoritative leader in the home, you are able to train and guide your children on the best path for life. If you are driven by a desire to “get along” with your child, build your child’s self-esteem, or for your child to like you, you will effectively place your child in charge of your home. Trust me, this is disastrous for everyone. But you can turn this ship around with the right leadership. Join me in a personal example of how the “strong-willed child” pattern can be fairly quickly and effectively ended. For the last six months or so, my son (who turned three during this time) had been going to bed later and later, while giving us more and more difficulty in the process. That has now changed, and bedtime is a fairly quick and pleasant time in our home. Not always wrinkle free, but typically quick and pleasant. Please do not read into this story that all is well because my son has turned three and grown out of the “terrible twos.” Between the two of us, I’ve done the most growing up during the last six months. It has been mine and my wife’s bold assertion of our authority that has turned the ship around, not my son’s birthday. Let me give you a contrast of the old and new snapshots:
3 months ago
8:00 pm – Son is watching something on TV, typically a favorite DVD. I’m beginning to think about how nice it would be if he were in bed, and my wife and I could enjoy the rest of the evening together without a two year old to contend with. But, I’m not ready to fight that battle, so I sit passively and watch (for the hundredth time) the unfolding drama of Lightning McQueen’s unprecedented quest for the Piston Cup.
8:30 pm – McQueen has learned his lesson, forfeited the Piston Cup, and everyone knows he’s the real champ – Kachow! At this point I would really like to put my son to bed, so I turn off the TV. He has a meltdown, I plead with him for five or ten seconds to settle down and come with me to brush his teeth. He clearly communicates his displeasure with my plan, and how important it is to him to watch Diego save the baby whale that is in trouble. I roll my eyes, make some wisecrack, and obediently turn on the DVD of his choice for him.
9:00 pm – OK, seriously, it’s time for bed. The kid is tired. His mother and I could use some time for adult conversation and connection. And I’m really tired of watching his cartoons all night. I turn off the TV and suffer through my son’s five minute meltdown as a result. The only thing that stops the “Dad Turned Off the TV” meltdown is the beginning of the “Dad is Trying to Make Me Brush My Teeth” meltdown. This one is worse than the preceding one. I try to explain to him how this is important and good for him, and to reason with him to calm down. (Keep in mind my son is two years old at this point!) He doesn’t calm down. Neither do I.
9:30 pm – I somehow manage to get him into the bathroom, where I brush his teeth for him in a not so gentle manner. I’m still trying to reason with him and help him see the error of his ways over the last hour. Strangely enough, he doesn’t seem to experience any great intellectual revelation!
9:45 pm – We’re in his bedroom – aka “Toys R Us after a tornado.” I wrestle him into bed and turn off the light. At this point, his strategy changes (very effectively, I might add). He can’t delay going to bed, but he can delay going to sleep. Now he becomes the adorable little boy who just needs his Daddy to cuddle with him. He plays this for ten to fifteen minutes, until I can finally bear to leave the room and close the door despite his desperate pleas for one more “big hug.”
10:00 pm – My son is finally in bed behind closed door, and it’s time for meaningful connection with my wife. Yeah, right! We’re both so worn out from this ordeal that we have only the energy to veg together for an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond on DVD, then crash for the night.
1 month ago – a transition period that took about 2 weeks
8:30 pm – It’s time for bed. I turn off the TV as my son pulls his meltdown stunt. I don’t bother trying to reason with him. I tell him I would probably be upset about this if I were in his shoes, but that’s just the way it’s going to be.
8:40 pm – Despite his verbal and non-verbal protests, I get his teeth brushed. This time it’s a little more gently, and I tell him it’s getting to be time he learned to brush his own teeth. No revelations yet on his end, but the teeth get brushed and we’re headed for bed.
8:45 pm – My wife joins the two of us in his bedroom for a reading from his toddler Bible story book. He plays around his Thomas Train table (there is actually some room to walk around it, now) and eventually sits in my lap as I finish the story.
9:00 pm – We turn off the light, and my wife and I say a brief prayer with our son. She heads to the living room, and I stay for a few minutes of bedtime bonding with him.
9:05 pm – I tell my son I’m giving him the last kiss and the last big hug, and walk out the door, closing it behind me. He uses his best desperate child in need of affection voice to coax me back in. I open the door, tell him I love him, it’s time for bed, I know he can be brave, and I’ll see him in the morning. He doesn’t like it, but he’s still in bed, and I’m out in grown-up land in the hallway headed toward my living room. Now I’m ready for some conversation with my wife, an episode or two of Raymond, and then…bedtime.
8:25 pm – I let my son know bedtime is coming in a few minutes. I instruct him to pick up the remaining toys in the living room as Diego saves that poor helpless whale again. He picks up the toys without much difficulty, and I tell him how proud I am of the big boy he is becoming.
8:30 pm – The TV goes off. He protests momentarily, but as I head down the hall and tell him to come with me to brush his teeth, he quickly says OK (kinda pitiful like) and follows his Daddy.
8:33 pm – His teeth are brushed, after I’ve given him an opportunity to try it for himself.
8:35 pm – He has selected two Thomas trains to join him in my lap as I read him a Bible story with my wife.
8:40 pm – Prayer time together and lights out.
8:45 pm – After sharing a kiss, a hug, and some fatherly words of encouragement for my three year old, I say goodnight to my son (and Percy and Toby – his train companions for the night) and go on about the rest of my evening. Man, there’s a lot of evening left!
Overcoming the “strong-willed child” syndrome is about parents being in charge. It’s like Morpheus told Neo in The Matrix, “Don’t think you are…KNOW you are!”
For more help in this great challenge, I’ll be glad to work with you personally. Email me at Roger@hopeforyourfamily.com or call my office for an appointment – 387-2287.
December 12, 2006
Q – Why are you concerned about the spirit of Christmas today?
A – Christmas has always been about relationships, even for those that don’t hold to the Christian faith. It’s about family and friends and community and “peace on earth, good will to all men.” The tradition of giving gifts has always been about showing love and making someone else’s life better. Recent times have seen the focus of Christmas shift toward materialism in a way that can be shockingly self-centered and demanding. Now, Christmas wish lists seem to be heavy on electronic entertainment gadgets that disconnect us from one another as we retreat into our own personalized digital, hi-def worlds of bliss.
Q – What’s wrong with families getting really into gifts for Christmas?
A – Gift giving in moderation can be a wonderful experience, and there is nothing wrong with giving and receiving nice things – even hi-tech marvels. However, the overspending in which many families indulge during the holiday season results in financial stresses that typically outlast the weeks of pleasure brought by the stuff under the tree. Going overboard with presents can actually train kids to become selfish and greedy, and cheat them of the extremely important life-skill of contentment. Also, it is amazing how early our children can fall into the trap of “keeping up with the Joneses.”
Q – How can parents help bring back the real spirit of Christmas?
A – Begin by setting an example of contentment. Learn to be satisfied with the stuff you already possess. Face it, it’s probably more than the vast majority of the world would even dream of owning. The truth is, if you don’t learn to be content, your possessions will eventually come to possess you – not a very pleasant situation! Christmastime is a wonderful time to find opportunities for your family to help others who are really in need. If you don’t know where to begin, ask your church leaders or check out the local volunteer organizations linked on the right side of my website. Another great way to recapture the true spirit of Christmas is to focus more on family and traditions than on presents. Find ways to communicate to the people you love that they are what makes the holidays special. A final suggestion – take the Christmas season as the perfect time of year to lead your children in growing morally and spiritually. There are countless ways to approach this process, so find one that works for you and grow from there. Your children will reap a lifetime of reward, and so will you.
Q – What are some ideas for family Christmas traditions?
A – Where do I begin? There are as many possibilities as there are family members in the world! Here are just a few. Select and decorate a tree as a family – let the kids participate. An “ugly” tree decorated with family love is much more meaningful than a Martha Stewart Living tree done while the children are sleeping all snug in their beds. Include children in making favorite holiday snacks, meals, and desserts. Cooking together can be such a great bonding and learning experience for families, especially during the Christmas season. Encourage each family member to make at least one present with their own hands. Try it – these will be the presents you will remember for the rest of your lives! Have a special time of reading a Christmas story together. It could be “Twas the Night Before Christmas” (regular or Cajun version), one of the gospel accounts from the Bible, “The Gift of the Magi,” or anything else that captures the real spirit of Christmas and brings the family together. Watching that favorite Christmas movie together can also be a great tradition, if you really play it up and enjoy each other in the process. I’m a big fan of “Christmas Vacation” (pound for pound – the most hilarious movie of all time), but you could watch Charlie Brown, a claymation special, “White Christmas,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or whatever is meaningful for your family. Just make sure to enjoy one another in the process.
Q – What helpful resources do you recommend?
A – Baton Rouge Parents Magazine lists lots of great local events. Family Fun Magazine is a terrific resource with lots of creative ideas for families, especially for the holidays. Ask your priest or pastor for guidance on how to really capture the spirit of Christmas for yourself and your family.
Be sure to attend the “Parenting in the 21st Century” seminar with national parenting authority, John Rosemond, and Baton Rouge’s own Jill Rigby. It is January 19-20 at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Baton Rouge. For registration and more information, click here.