Category: Parenting Skills

What Use is a Good Imagination?

Jack, Mary, and Ben using the really cool horns they invented.

What use is a good imagination?

It might surprise you to know that when child development experts talk about “critical thinking skills” and “creative problem-solving abilities,” they refer to the imagination. That is what our imagination helps us to do. For human beings to have well-developed imaginations, you provide children with opportunities to exercise their imaginations. This practice happens best when children PLAY. In fact, some child development experts believe it is the only place that it happens. Play is also the place where executive functioning is developed in children. Executive functioning is a must to become a fully developed, successful adult.

Jack’s super duper invention!

A good question you, as parents, might ask yourselves is, “Are you providing your children enough opportunities for this type of play.” It is a good question because organized sports, music lessons, dance lessons, karate lessons don’t count. Playing board games with the family doesn’t count and doing just about anything on the computer doesn’t count. TV doesn’t count and playing video games doesn’t count. These things don’t count because, in the case of organized sports or lessons, etc., children are not free to use their imaginations and creativity. In the rest, they are watching someone else’s creativity and imagination.

In my mentoring, this comes up because it is a problem for parents. They don’t want their kids to waste time. They don’t want wasted materials. They don’t want messes. But these are the things that go into imaginative play, playing with paints, play dough, costumes, glue, and crayons—making a mess. Exploring the woods, splashing in a puddle, wondering how a caterpillar inches by, or pretending to be a tiger, stalking in the jungle are ways to increase a child’s imagination. These types of play use time, resources and often create a mess.

Homemade guns. Notice that Benny’s is a play drill and Mary’s is an umbrella.

In today’s world, there is a push to make sure that our children are prepared for life, go to college, get a good job. Often parents think that if they give their children too much free time, they are wasting their opportunities to prepare. Even though this thought comes from the best of intentions, it is not helpful for children. Children need time and space to develop their creative imaginations free from adult agendas. So even if your children complain, “I’m bored! There’s nothing to do!” please trust that if you leave them to figure it out for themselves, how to fill their time, their innate creativity will kick in, and their imaginations will soar!

When I was a child, my parents were not involved in managing our days. We had our chores to do and possibly homework, but when they were finished, we were free, and frankly, we made the most of it. We acted out all the fairy tales we knew. I served as a soldier, nurse, or bad guy in every war I had ever learned about. We made mud cakes and decorated them; we hand-stitched doll clothes; we painted and used clay. We made houses out of fall leaves, and we built innumerable forts out of snow. We had plenty of time for play.

This type of play is a challenge today because our children are growing up in a digital world. They will carry that world in their pockets. But with your help, they can be taught while small, to play and use their imaginations. The first five years of a child’s life are the most suitable time. Here are five tips to help you help your young child use their imagination.

Five Tips to Strengthen Imagination

1. Help your child to activate their imagination. Engage in their play. If they bring you something they have drawn or made, ask them about it, pretend-play with them.
2. Ask thoughtful questions. I especially like this at mealtimes. I wonder what would… What if…
3. Make time for imaginative thinking and play. Make sure there is plenty of free and unstructured time to think, explore and pursue interests and ideas. There is evidence that playing outdoors and in nature stimulates imagination and learning. In addition, some quiet time alone can help children to plan and work through an idea.
4. Encourage different experiences. Read together. Make up stories in the car or at dinner. Visit museums, botanical gardens, parks, etc.
5. Show your playful side and imagination. I have written about this a lot. What you model for your kids is what they will copy. So even if play isn’t your thing, choose to be silly, to pretend on occasion, and to let your hair down.

Jack’s Darth Vader mask (the lid to the pop corn popper)

If your children are older than five, all is not lost. Have you seen the car commercial where the parents look back at their children and ask, “Do you still have bars?” while they are using their phones. At some point, the kids reply, “No, nothing.” And there it is. Get your kids away from all that is digital. Go camping, boating, have screen-free time in your day, put phones away during meals, and ask questions or make up a story with each person taking a turn to add to the plot. With some thought, you can help your older children to imagine.

I recall a family meeting my daughter had with her older kids. All the phones were turned off. The tv was off. No one called on Alexa for anything. They each had poster paper and a stack of old magazines and photos printed off the computer. They talked about what they would like to have happen in their family in the next three years. Where would they like to go, who would they like to see, what did they want to do. Then they used markers, scissors, and glue to create what that would look like for them. They had a great evening, and it used their imaginations.

If you want your children to go to college, have a good job, be successful and happy adults, then encourage them to play and use their imagination!

Let’s help kids use their imaginations and share the value of doing so with others! 

Sparks Bring Learning to Life!

What Are Sparks?

I have talked about children’s ‘SPARKS’ in numerous articles and in my book, Becoming A Present Parent. In fact, the issue of Sparks came up in last week’s comments – Can Children LOVE Learning?  What’s a Spark, you may ask? Well, a Spark is anything that a child says or does that lets you know they’re interested in something right now. Sparks are valuable regardless of how you choose to educate your children.

My daughter Kate is not a homeschooling mom. However, last year, due to Covid, she became one. It isn’t something she plans to continue doing. But she, like most moms, is interested in teaching her children about life, core values, people, events, and other worthwhile topics. This type of learning occurs well in the family and home. Recently, Kate shared a person of interest with her children, Tessa and Elliott – Lily Hevesh,  @hevesh5  a well-known domino artist. Elliott and Tessa have been in love with dominos for years. Tessa and Elliott were intrigued by this woman artist and what she had accomplished. For well over an hour, they worked on their own domino creations. My daughter sent me photos and included these words – ‘Light a spark and watch it burn!’ I loved it because those are my words. I didn’t even know she was paying attention to them. : )

If we keep our eyes open, we will notice what interests our children. We will see what is ‘sparking ‘them right now. That is the thing to hone in on and help your children with, whether it is getting materials they need,  teaching them about a famous person who also has that Spark, or giving them space to experiment and create a mess.

HOW TO SEE SPARKS

A. Be Present. Do you want to know the number one way to see and hear your child’s Sparks? BE PRESENT. When we’re Present in all the mundane moments of a family’s day, we will see and hear what we may have missed up until now.

It’s hard to see Sparks if your head is filled with your schedule or if you’re engrossed in your technology. It’s hard to ‘see’ if you’re trying to avoid becoming involved or prevent a mess. You can’t see if you’re so busy working that the Spark appears to be an irritation or problem.

B. Ask good questions. You can jump-start your ability to see your children’s Sparks by asking yourself questions:
• What activity do you have to make them stop doing to get them to eat or go to sleep?
• What activity are they doing when they seem most engaged and alive?
• When they get to choose what to do on a free afternoon, what activity do they choose?
• What did they love to do when they were three years old? Five years old?
• What are they currently doing that bugs you?
• What do they do that’s making a mess?
• What do they collect?

C. Have mini-conversations.
• Share your Sparks, and they may share theirs
• Say “You’re very good at this”
• Say “You seem interested in this”
• Say, “This appears to make you happy/excited.”
• Ask, “Have you ever thought of . . . .”
• Say, “I had a great day today.”
• At dinner, ask “What was the best part of your day?” and have each person share

Pay attention to what keeps coming up over and over again in their answers and their conversations.

When we are in tune with what interests our children now, we can watch them experience joy just as Kate watched it happen for her children. Let others know how to do it too. : )

Can Children LOVE Learning?

For many families, school has begun in earnest. Whether you are using the public system, a private system, or homeschooling, September usually means we are deep into it. Some years back, I wrote an article about how to help children remain lifelong learners, to become lovers of learning.

As I reread it, I was reminded of the value of helping our children love learning new things, to not be intimidated by what they do not already know. We don’t have total control if we use the public system or a private system to educate our kids. However, we always have control over what happens in our homes and between our children and us.

Homeschool parents are not immune to things that can take away a child’s love of learning. So often, there is the pressure to make sure our kids are up to par because parents may feel the need to prove they aren’t ‘ruining’ their kids. I have homeschooled, and I know that pressure!

I feel the information is as pertinent today as it was when I first wrote it. I hope you enjoy the read and that it gives you an idea or two that you can institute into your home to help your kids become lifelong learners by choice.

“But I must again repeat it, that the great secret of education lies in finding out the proper means of making young minds fall in love with useful researches…”
-George Turnbull, Observations upon Liberal Education, written in 1742

This is an interesting premise. If we can discern how to help children fall in love with learning, they can receive an excellent education because they want to.

I believe this love of learning comes naturally to children. I’m sure you have observed how children learn. Just watch a baby learning to use their hands. They are not discouraged by how long it takes to gain mastery over the hand. They just keep working at it. No one tries to help a baby learn to use their hands. We just watch them and encourage them and let them work it out. The same goes for learning to hold a spoon, walking, putting on a shirt, etc. We provide the spoon and the shirt and support and encouragement, but basically, let them work it out.

Watch an eight-year-old building a fort. They are dogged when it comes to a project like this and, if left to their own devices, will figure it out and enjoy every bit of the process. The finished product may leave a bit to be desired in our adult minds, but the child will be thrilled with his effort.

Herein lies part of the problem of maintaining a love of learning. The parent might comment on the unsafe condition of the floor or walls; how many nails they used, what of this or that could be better, the pile of accumulated debris. Then the comment, “Here, let me help you with this.” Both teachers and parents must be careful not to damage a child’s confidence in their efforts to help. They also need to be cautious about sending the ‘you didn’t really do a good job’ message.

Sometimes parents have a fear that their child might be left behind, in some way found wanting, or not be able to compete in the adult world effectively. Often, if children march to a different drummer, it makes us nervous. Occasionally a child doesn’t fit on the usual timeline for learning something, such as reading or math.

Our eagerness to help them can sometimes do more harm than good. If we are too energetic in our efforts, we can even cause a ‘hate of learning.’ We often fall into this trap regarding the ‘academic’ subjects or things that cause us inconvenience. School teachers are not immune to these same errors. Pushing too hard and criticism make loving a new skill or topic difficult for kids.

Ten Ways to Foster a Love of Learning

So, what are some ways that we can encourage learning in any subject, even academics, without squashing the child’s own natural desire to learn?

1. Provide a safe and loving atmosphere for learning, more support, less pressure. Safer support would have helped me when it came to math. I loved math, but I was terrible at it. The harder the adults pushed, the more challenging it was to learn. It seemed to slow down my brain. Later, as an adult, I realized that I had a learning difficulty. I wish I had felt supported and safe when it came to math but I, instead, felt judged.

2. Provide inspiring materials. Expose children to inspiring music, great art, good books, etc. When I was of middle school age and into high school, I was teased by my friends because I read all the wrong stuff. That is because my dad had so many great books. I couldn’t help myself. What my friends were reading seemed lame. : )

My mother sang beautifully. She didn’t sing opera, but she played it, and she sang songs from Broadway. I didn’t listen to the same music as my peers. Yes, they did think I was a bit odd, but I had been exposed to the beauty of literature, art, and music. It changed how I saw the world.

If you want help exposing your kids to great art and literature, check out this excellent website. The Well Educated Heart (aka Libraries of Hope) is a restoration of stories from the golden age of children’s literature. Marlene Peterson has reconnected the modern generation of parents and children to the classic but forgotten stories that have instilled virtue and character in the hearts of generations past.

3. Read as a family on a regular, consistent basis. Reading as a family has great benefits. Even now, when my family consists of three people over seventy, I have written about the huge impact our family reading has had. This one thing will make a difference in your family and your children’s love of learning.

4. Inspire curiosity and then leave them to the wonder of experimentation and self-discovery. My grandson, Ben, loves this! Let them, experiment, fail, make a mess, etc. It leads to learning.

5. Leave plenty of time for thinking, playing, and being with family. Avoid too many lessons, clubs, and classes that adults manage. I have often written of the value of being at home, together, talking, reading, and playing. It takes effort to make this happen in our busy world of technology, but you will be well rewarded for the effort. Gotta put away the phone for at least a couple of hours each week. It takes dedication on a parent’s part, but you can do it. I’ve seen it.

6. Remember that play is the work of children. Encourage your kids to go outside and be in nature. Let them work stuff out together without adult supervision. Experiment with time off from technology. Organized sports and clubs don’t count. When kids are free to play and use their imagination, it does a body good.

7. Be patient with the learning process. I know I would have had a better outcome with math if those who taught me and those at home who felt responsible for my learning, would have been more patient with my timeline. I had a learning difficulty. Back in those days, we didn’t even know what that was. But there was such a push to move me along with everyone else that it became harder and harder to learn.

8. Learn to recognize and respond to Sparks. Sparks tell you what your child is interested in right now and may develop a passion for later. They are usually the things that bug you or make a mess. However, if you follow your child’s lead, you can both have a remarkable learning opportunity together.

9. Enjoy learning yourself. I read because my dad read and made books available. My mom read to us. She played all kinds of music and sang for us. My mom and dad taught themselves to run several brick-and-mortar businesses. They were always learning something new. It helped me be brave and willing to learn new things This example has served me well! Right now, at 71, I am learning Spanish!

10. Share what you are learning with your children. I would have loved to have more conversations with my mom and dad about what they were doing, reading, and learning. I know it would have helped me, but their example was all they could give at the time. So, give your children a bit more. Let them know what you are learning about.

When we safeguard this natural love of learning, we set the child on the road to success when they are ready for deeper levels of knowledge. They will be prepared to flourish in high school and college studies. They will do as George Turnbull suggests; they will seek out an excellent education.

Send these tips along to your friends who have to deal with the pressures of school, any type of school. They will thank you for it. : ) 

Is there a deeper truth?

How it all started!

Alzheimer’s is a challenging disease to deal with. The brain isn’t consistent. So today, my mom can remember something, and tomorrow she has no clue. It is a temptation to repeat things, hoping the information will somehow stick. The dog has to be in the middle of the pad. This is a porta-potty. Don’t use the garbage can. Don’t fold up your used underwear. It goes here.

The other day my mom ate three bowls of cereal before lunch. This isn’t the first time it has happened. We buy her favorite cereal, raisin bran. It must have sweetened flakes because mom cannot monitor her use of sugar, and we leave it in the refrigerator so she can find it when she gets up in the morning if one of us isn’t in sight.

Mom thinks she is hungry because one of the effects of her dementia is that she no longer recognizes thirst. So, whenever she needs water, she feels hungry. I was out in the garden, and Don was resting. We weren’t there to get her a drink and help her manage how she was feeling. That is why she ate three bowls of cereal in four hours.

When I came in to fix lunch, I was put out. I need mom’s weight to stay reasonable to manage baths and things that will come up down the road. I need mom to eat nutritious food. I don’t want her to become ill and end up in the hospital. These were my thoughts as I explained again why she shouldn’t eat three bowls of cereal before lunch for the dozenth time. She won’t recall any of the conversations. What she will remember is that she was in trouble.

Was there a deeper truth?

Later, I was telling my daughter Jodie what I had done. I was confessing because I realized that my motive for the conversation wasn’t as noble as I had supposed. Then Jodie shared a life-changing question with me. She had learned that it was helpful to ask this question when she felt upset – ‘Is there a deeper truth?’

Let’s look again at the situation with my mom. I want her to have a manageable weight. Is there a deeper truth? I want her to eat nutritious food. Is there a deeper truth? I want her to remain healthy, so she doesn’t end up in the hospital. Is there a deeper truth? Her greatest fear is having to be in a nursing home. I want to make sure she can stay here with us. Is there a deeper truth?

I hated to admit it, but there was a deeper truth. I am a woman of order. I like things my way. Her eating three bowls of cereal was out of order. Not being hungry enough to eat lunch with us was not part of how I envision a family lunch. You get up, eat breakfast, drink water, then have lunch. This is the proper order.

All those other things are true. I care about them, but when I was honest with myself, it wasn’t any of those things that had me so worked up. It was that my plan had been messed with. But, of course, I’m sure you won’t judge me too harshly. You do this. We all do this.

This question can help you to parent better

I can think back to my parenting and the times I got upset with one of my kids. Of course, after the fact, I could come up with lots of good reasons for my distress. However, if I had asked myself this question, I can assure you that often the truth would have been attached to my plans, feelings, desires, and sense of how it should be.

I don’t think we can avoid being upset over things that happen in a family—a mud ring left in the tub; the center cut out of an entire piece of construction paper; clothes stuffed under the bed. Homework lost or left undone, a child not coming home on time, the left-over roast being eaten when you had planned a meal around it. The list is endless.

But we can respond better if we will ask ourselves the question – ‘Is there a deeper truth’ until we get to the bottom of why we are really upset or distressed. Then we will be able to manage whatever the situation is with greater calm. We will be better able to teach. We will feel better about ourselves. We will leave our children feeling better about themselves.

I have numerous opportunities to practice asking myself this question every day. I am getting a bit better, and hopefully, I will become a master eventually. If you decide to begin asking yourself this question, I’ll bet you will also have many opportunities to practice. I hope you choose to ask yourself this question more often. It will bless you and your family.

I needed this question. You probably need this question. Who else do you know
who would benefit from knowing this question?

How Does Reading as a Family Impact Adults?

I am a BIG proponent of family reading because of its many benefits. When our kids were living at home, we read together. I wasn’t consistent, but we did manage to do it often enough that one of my daughters would say years later, “Mom, it was so great how you always read to us.” However, I wasn’t prepared for the HUGE impact reading together has had on our household of three, all of us over seventy.

Some time back, I published an article called I’ve Got the Tone. For many years, I have had a tone in my voice of irritation, frustration, annoyance. Over the years, it became a habit. Since we have been reading together, about a year now, that tone has dissipated quite a bit. The truth is I feel less irritated, annoyed, and frustrated. The feeling in our home is one of more charity, less contention, and a greater desire to connect and be cooperative. I think reading together will directly impact our health.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. Don bought me a bag of veggie chips. I love veggie chips, but we don’t buy them often. I made yummy sandwiches for lunch. I thought about getting the veggie chips, but I didn’t. After the blessing, Don went into the garage where all the chips are kept and got some of the veggie chips for himself. When he came back to the table, I smiled and said, “Hey, I thought those were mine. You should have brought some for all of us”—end of conversation. However, the comment kept coming to my mind as I was reading to Don and my mom. My tone of voice had not been irritated, just matter of fact. But I worried that I might have made him feel bad.

So, I told him that what I had said wasn’t kind, and I should have said, “Good idea,” instead. He looked sheepish and replied, “I was trying to be sneaky.” Don isn’t supposed to have chips. I laughed and said, “Honey, you got them and then came back to the table with them. You aren’t very sneaky.” He replied, “I know; that’s what my meds do to my thinking.” I smiled and said, “I knew that’s what was happening. That’s why I should have said ‘Great idea’ instead of what I said.” We both smiled. It was a totally different feeling from what would have happened a year ago. The feeling was conversational rather than confrontive, even when my first comments weren’t as well thought out as they could have been. There was a sense of connection.

One of my warmest memories is of my mother reading to us. She didn’t read to us often, but when she did, it was magical for me! As I think back on those reading moments with my mom, I know what made them so special. I knew my mom loved us. This same feeling of love and concern has come from the reading we have been doing in our family. I knew this was the case for kids, but I wasn’t prepared for how impactful it would be for a family of adults. Reading together has established an intimate experience filled with feelings of warmth and belonging.

Most of my readers still have kids at home. It doesn’t matter whether you have a bunch of littles or a group of teens. Both teens and littles like to read as a family. From Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading Report, we learn only 17 percent of parents of kids aged 9–11 read aloud to their children. Yet 83 percent of kids aged 6–17 say being read to is something they either loved or liked a lot (Scholastic Inc. and YouGov 2014). There are excellent reasons to read together.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ AS A FAMILY

A. Physical closeness—Reading aloud allows you and your children to achieve physical closeness. Small children enjoy sitting on your lap or draping themselves across your body. You may snuggle less with older children, but this is not a given. If you’re open to having older children sit next to you or lay a head on your shoulder, the chances are it will happen often. That has been my experience.
B. A sense of security—Gathering together as a family and reading create a sense of security and safety—a feeling of ‘all is right’ with the world. When children feel secure and safe, they function better out in the world. Love is essential to a child, but feeling safe is crucial and often even more critical.
C. A sense of belonging—There’s a sense of belonging which comes from everyone being in the same room, snuggling and listening to the same story, having a shared experience. This sense of belonging can be beneficial as our children begin to mature. They’re trying to figure themselves out as well as figure out where they fit in the world. This process of personal growth can bring a sense of isolation. Reading as a family is one of the ways parents can create a sense of belonging.
D. A chance to tackle complex subjects—Reading as a family allows you to introduce difficult topics to your children and have safe discussions. I’ve read books to my children dealing with honesty, integrity, kindness, bullying, God, social issues, beliefs, and feelings. It made it possible to bring up ideas and thoughts I wanted my children to consider and ponder. It was a safe and comfortable way to experience essential life lessons.
E. A shared language and a sense of intimacy—When families read together, they often create a unique language. It can provide inside jokes. I read an article that described the experience of a family who loved the Mercy Watson books. In their family, they frequently heard the call at breakfast for “Mercy Watson toast, please!” (Johnson, “Why You Should Read Aloud to Older Kids”) It is fun and bonding when families share a phrase from a good book that means something to all of them. It creates a sense of intimacy.
F. It can strengthen struggling children and youth—When one of my daughters was fifteen, she made unwise choices. She knew it, but she was struggling to make changes. At the time, the youngest two children read with me. We read in the middle of my bed before lights out. Although my daughter wasn’t usually home, I noticed that when she was, she would come to my bedroom door, lean against it, and listen, no matter what the book was. This time together did not resolve her issues, and she had a tough road, but I’m confident it helped her stay connected to our family in a way that was vital to her eventual success. If you’re struggling with any of your children, for any reason, the closeness generated by reading together can go a long way to keeping you connected while issues are worked out.

If you are hesitant to read as a family, give it a try. Be patient. In my book Becoming a Present Parent, chapter Four covers touchpoints. Touchpoint 7 is reading together. You can read that chapter free. Touchpoint 7 shares a real-life experience of a troubled family, how they made family reading work, and their eventual success. There is a section called Making Family Reading Work. With the tips found there, you can read together, and it can be successful.

Share the reasons that you read with your family. If you don’t yet read as a family, why not?

Intentional Systems Make All the Difference!

When I mentor moms, I hear about all the things that aren’t working. That is what they come to me for – for perspective, to see with new eyes. I enjoy this process of sorting it out. We often begin with family systems, so things start to work better.

I have had this type of conversation hundreds of times:
Mom – I can’t stand dinner time. It is always rushed, and then everyone goes and does their thing, and I am stuck in the kitchen with a big mess.
Me – Well, tell me about your system for getting dinner done.
Mom – We don’t have a system.
Me – Yes, you do. You figure out what to fix at the last minute. You cook the meal. You set the table; you serve dinner. You clean up. You are filled with resentment. It isn’t an intentional system, but it is your system. There is usually shocked silence on the other end of the phone.

Here is another example.

I worked with a mom who hated her bedroom. Her bed was always covered by unfolded laundry. What she wanted was a retreat but what she had was resentment.

When I asked her what her system was for the clean laundry, she told me she didn’t have one. But of course, she did. Here is what it looked like. She would do the laundry, and then the clean laundry would be piled on her bed. She would coax the kids to fold their stuff and put it away. It often didn’t get done before the end of a busy day, and then mom would move the laundry to the window seat. It might stay there a few days while she felt cheated because she couldn’t sit in her room, in the window seat.

When she explained what happened on laundry day, I pointed out that she did have a system. It wasn’t a system that got her what she wanted, it made her feel resentful, but it was her system. We talked about how she could better manage her laundry to stay out of her room and be taken care of by all the family. It worked. She got her private space back, and her children became more responsible. Everyone was happier.

The women I talk to are always astonished to realize that they have a system by default, and it stinks. Then we talk through what she would like to have happen, what could reasonably happen, and then come up with an experiment designed to intentionally set up a system that accomplishes what she wants. We talk about getting the family to buy in because when people buy in, they take ownership, and things work better.

Here is an example of a default system in my life that whacked me out for months!

I am a very orderly person. I am also very self-directed. However, for many reasons, I found myself in a mess. I wasn’t getting up on time; I wasn’t getting my studying done; I forgot to pray; I was distracted. After nine months of suffering, I did what I should have done far sooner. I prayed and then thought through what was not working. What did my current system for managing these things look like?

I realized that the system I had used in the past had fallen apart. I didn’t have a morning routine. I sat down, thought through what I needed, then wrote it down and taped the paper to the bathroom wall. This experiment was better, but I was still distracted and not getting these important things done daily. I know that consistency is essential, so I went back to the drawing board and prayed again. I was missing something.

I have kept my morning routine quite simple for a long time because I am a full-time caregiver. I get up at 6:15 on many days, dress, feed, and groom my 15-year-old special needs granddaughter. Then I get the other three off to school. In the summer, I am on deck with these kids for a few hours most days. By nine Don and possibly my mom are up and want breakfast. Mom needs her hair done, and twice a week, she needs to bathe before I can move on to anything else. Noon would come and I wouldn’t have gotten what set me on a solid path for the day completed. The time would rush on from there and frequently late evening would come, and I never got to my ‘stuff.’ The question was how I do the things that matter to me and still take care of all these people.

When the answer came, it was so simple as answers from God often are.

I had the thought to put my scriptures and affirmations in the bathroom, in my reading basket, and hang my clothes for the next day on a hook the evening before. Then each morning, I would get up, go into the bathroom, dress, and prepare for the day. I would sit on the toilet and read my scriptures and say my affirmations. Then I knelt and prayed. I know God forgives me for praying at the side of the toilet. : ) The whole thing takes 20 minutes, then I am out in the fray, but the things that matter to me and my well-being are complete. The system for my mornings that I have intentionally designed is working well!

Systems matter. If there is a place in your life that feels out of order or things aren’t happening, look closely at your system. What is it? What does it lack that would feel better or help you manage better? If you don’t think you have a system, and that is why it isn’t working, think again. You do; it just stinks. Come up with an experiment. Try something new with intention. You will be surprised at what a difference it can make.

Got a great ‘systems’ story. Please share. : ) 

Creating a Refuge for Your Family

My sister flew to Philadelphia to see her son and his family. Michael picked her up at the airport, and they drove to New Jersey. He is in the military, and she was very anxious to see them all.

Here is the catch – my sister has terrible claustrophobia and can’t fly. She has never been on a plane and has anxiety just thinking about it. But she wanted to see Michael and his wife and kids. Watching her prepare for the flight and all the effort she had to make to even get on the plane, let alone stay on it, was a miracle.

She managed to get to Michael’s in one piece. Everyone had a wonderful time, lots of good food, fun activities, and hugs and kisses. She loved it. But in the back of her mind was that trip home. Again, lots of worries and getting control of self-talk, using natural nerve remedies, etc. On the flight to her sons, she used an entire bottle of Ashwagandha.

When Rozanne got home, she said that it was such a comfort. She said, “Home is a refuge. It is a safe place to be. The place where you can rest and feel peace.”

That is so right! We all want to go home to be safe and at peace. It’s what our kids want too. For parents, that is part of our job – creating a refuge where it is safe and there is peace. That is a significant part of the job.

There is a skill we can learn and then practice that will help our homes feel more like a refuge. It helps kids feel valued and heard.

ACTIVE LISTENING

When we actively listen, it is to connect with the speaker and to understand how they feel about what they’re saying. It’s active and engaged and seeks to hear the words and, more importantly, to hear the heart.

Because this type of listening doesn’t come naturally, I’ve had to develop steps to make it happen more often. They may be helpful to you also.

A. STOP what you’re doing. Turn away from any technology, book, or project. If you genuinely can’t stop, tell your child you can see this is important to them, and you want to hear what they have to say. Set a specific time when you’ll be free and keep it. Saying “we’ll talk about it later” is not specific and sends the message you’re not available to them, that whatever else you’re doing is more exciting or more important. If possible, stop and listen now!

B. Make eye contact with your child. I remember reading that an infant can tell the difference between a face in order and one with jumbled features.

From my experience, I know babies are interested in their parent’s faces. They look at their parent’s faces constantly and reach out to touch them. Infants want us to look back at them. As we grow older, the desire for eye contact with the people in our lives that matter to us remains.

Eye contact is looking directly into your child’s eyes and not looking away at other things or looking down. When we look at our children as we listen to them, it sends a powerful message that we care, we hear them, and they matter.

C. Respond to what your child is feeling, not only what they’re saying. When you’re actively listening, you’ll respond to feelings more quickly and more accurately. This type of response helps your child feel heard. You can say things like, “Boy—how maddening!” or “You didn’t like that, did you?” or “How did you feel?” This helps your child know that you view their feelings as valid and important.

D. Listen with patience and interest. Whatever you’re feeling, your child will know! They’re like energy magnets. If your energy is inwardly impatient, they’ll know. If you’re dying to get back to your stuff, they’ll feel it. If you’re bored out of your mind, it’s coming across loud and clear. It may all be on a subconscious level, but they know. Hold thoughts in your mind that will help you maintain interest and patience.

For example, you can think, “I sure love this kid. They’re so interesting, funny, kind, thoughtful,” whatever. Hold thoughts that allow you to embrace fully the moment you’re sharing with your
child.

Avoid interrupting. Ask only those questions that help clarify. Your job at this moment is not to teach, reprimand or fix. It’s to listen.

Listening to your child is an end in itself. It isn’t about a resolution, teaching, making progress, none of that. It’s about connection, pure and simple. You can always teach later. Right now, actively listen.

During a day, there are dozens of opportunities to stop and listen. We can’t actively listen in every situation. But if we can increase those times we do, it will significantly impact our relationships.

When you practice listening to really hear your child, even if they have made a mistake or you are angry at them for something, it creates a safe place. When kids feel safe, they will come to you more often, even when they know they are in hot water. And as our children grow older, this will be a gift to us.

Practice active listening as much as you can and make your home a refuge.

Share ‘how to’ with a friend.

Creative Problem Solving vs The Suckers Choice

The Sucker’s Choice

Are you ever faced with a situation that needs a resolution but the choices you see seem unfair or damaging? If you choose one despite not liking either option, that is called The Suckers Choice, and when made, it will inevitably leave someone feeling wronged. The Suckers Choice is almost always bad for relationships, including the one with ourselves.

Here is an example of what I am talking about:

When my daughter, Jodie, had her fourth baby, she suffered postpartum depression. To combat the effects, she decided to exercise by taking a walk with the kids in the morning. How do you think that went?

Let me share a walk I took with them just before the new baby was born. Jack and Mary took off running! This walk will be fast, I thought. Soon they reached our neighbors home with a ramp. It was up the ramp and down the ramp at a full run. Then it was up the ramp and down the ramp rolling over and over again. Good thing we were friends with this neighbor.

Next was the cement retaining wall. It had to be climbed on and then carefully followed by little feet. If anyone fell off, they felt they had to go back to the beginning and start again. Next was the yard with all the kids. Stop and chat. Let’s see what they are doing. Let’s join in!

And dogs! Every dog had to be spoken to and, if it was a happy dog, petted. EVERY dog! I never realized how many dogs we had in that neighborhood!

Then there were the treasures. Every walk is all about the treasures that have to be picked up, examined, and then stowed in the stroller, stones, sticks, leaves, torn paper cups, etc.

About halfway around the block, Mary’s little legs began to wear out. Remember, they have covered the first half at a full run (disregarding all the stops). So, it was into the stroller. The key to knowing when she wanted in the stroller was the phrase, WAIT, WAIT, WAIT!

Then we would press on for about 2 minutes (I do not exaggerate here), and then she would need to get out to see something or to run. The key phrase to know when she needed to get out was a clear STOP, STOP, STOP!

Did you get the timing on this little exercise that lasted for the second half of our walk? Into the stroller for 2 minutes or less. Out of the stroller for two minutes or less. Sigh! Can you see how frustrating this walk would have been for my daughter, who needed some sustained exercise?

Jodie had a couple of obvious choices –
• Don’t walk with the kids making taking a walk inconsistent
• Walk with the kids but be frustrated and angry

A Creative Problem-Solving Activity

How can we avoid making the Sucker’s choice and develop creative solutions to real and frustrating situations?
• Work on yourself first. You are likely to benefit by improving your approach, and you are the only person you can work on anyway.
• Make sure your heart is in the right place and stay focused on the matter at hand.
• Do NOT make the Sucker’s choice. Believe that there is always at least a third option.
• Determine what it is you want to happen. Ask, “What do I want here.”
• Ask the question, “What do I want for the other person?”
• Then ask this question “What do I want for the relationship?”
• Finally, ask a very telling question “How would I behave if I really wanted these results?”
• Search for the elusive AND. Present yourself with more challenging questions which turn the either/or choice into a search for the elusive AND. Clarify what you want and clarify what you don’t want. Present your brain with a more complex problem by asking the questions posed above.

 “When we present our brain with a demanding question, our body sends precious blood to the parts of our brain that help us think, and away from the parts of our body that make us want to fight.” (from Crucial Conversations by Kerry Paterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler) The Sucker’s Choice presents our brain with problems that are easily solved with restricted blood flow. They don’t require creative thought. The Sucker’s Choice keeps us stuck in ineffective strategies.

Now back to the story

How did Jodie solve the situation she was facing? First, she looked at her motives. Jodie needed to exercise to return to good health and did not want to be frustrated. She realized that she did not want to jeopardize her relationship with her children by being angry with them for natural, childish behaviors.

She knew that if she really wanted health and not to be angry with her kids, she would need to find a way to help them understand her need for a walk while still allowing them space and time to walk the way a child would take a walk. (Her kids were aged two mo. to 6 years old)

Creative Problem-Solving List and Process

Jodie asked the pivotal questions posed above and set her brain to develop at least a third alternative. She made a list.
• Get a babysitter
• Trade exercise days with another mom who also wanted to exercise with a sustained walk
• Walk when her husband got home and could watch the children
• Get up before the children and walk. (They are up at 5:30 sometimes!)

None of these options were realistic for her family situation for many reasons. She kept thinking, and here is what she finally came up with – Mom’s Walk and Kid’s Walk.

If it was a Mom’s walk, everyone stayed in the stroller, and mom would walk fast. If it was a kid’s walk, then everyone could get in and out of the stroller, and they would go slow. This is how the walks played out. Every morning was Mom’s walk. And if they walked in the afternoon, which they did at least twice a week, it was kids walk. Her children were happy with the arrangement. She was not frustrated, and her health and outlook improved significantly. Family relationships grew. They experienced joy.

As you recognize the Sucker’s Choice and work at creative solutions to your parenting problems, don’t expect perfection:
1. Aim for progress.
2. When you come up with a solution that succeeds, celebrate your success.
3. Take pleasure in knowing that you and your family are improving.

Here is a short video that will give you more information on avoiding The Sucker’s Choice.

Share your experiences with solving your parenting situations creatively while avoiding the Suckers Choice. I would love to hear about them.

The power of a table

I have always had a dining room or kitchen table. Even in our first home, which was small, we had a table. I loved having a table. It was good to rest my elbows when I was reading or studying.

As our kids came, we sat around our table for meals and talked. It was a gathering place, a homework place, my sewing space when the need arose. We used our table a lot.

Then ten years ago, when our daughter’s family and we decided to share space, I gave up my table. We lived in a basement apartment of our daughter’s home with lovely big windows. We had a kitchen and living room. However, there wasn’t a dining area. The kitchen was narrow and had a bar. I thought the bar would be enough.

But it was high and required stools. Don and I were in our sixties, and so we never used it. No resting elbows while reading. Fewer conversations. That’s because we used TV trays. They work but don’t lend themselves to the same intimacy one feels at a table.

Then we moved again. We have the south side of this beautiful home with lots of sunshine. We have a new kitchen which we built. We have a nice sized living room. But again, no place for a table. We have been in this space for three years, and my need for a table has grown.

This spring inside, I was screaming, “I NEED a table.” I couldn’t put into words why I felt such a need for a table. We had our TV trays, and since the space is not large, it seemed the thing to do. BUT something was missing, and I knew it in my heart.

Finally, I decided I HAD to have a table. I bought one for $40, used. But it was too large and felt overbearing in the room. I thought about it a lot. I NEEDED a table. So, I did what I do. I prayed, and within a couple of days, someone gave me the perfect table. It was the right color and size. It came with chairs, and I was ecstatic.

We have had the table for a few months now. Has it made a difference? YES! And here is how. I can finally explain, in words, what was missing. There is something ‘connecting’ about sitting face to face around a table. There is something ‘family’ about it. Many times, over the last few months, my husband has said, “I like sitting here and looking at your face.” That doesn’t happen when you’re seated at TV trays. My mother talks more while we eat. Because she has Alzheimer’s, I guess she felt a bit isolated in her chair in front of her tray unless asked a direct question.

Our conversations are better, more intimate, more interesting. Frankly, the temptation to turn on the TV is less. Last night we played music while we ate. It was awesome!!

And when we aren’t all sitting at the table, I study there. I rest my elbows, and I read. I am aware of the life going on around me, and I like feeling my family’s pulse. A table, well used, creates a sense of ‘family.’

You probably have a table. My questions to you are:

  • Do know what a gift it is?
  • Do you use it?
  • Are you taking the opportunity to connect your family at least once a day?
  • Are you developing that ‘family’ feeling?

Reasons to gather at your table at least once a day:

A. It will help you get what you want—Eating together goes a long way in helping you create the family culture you see in your mind or have written down.

B. It will unify your family—During the years our children were making poor choices, the time at the dinner table held us together. If we couldn’t agree on the best way to live, we could at least gather once a day and eat together. It kept us face-to-face and heart-to-heart. We didn’t teach or reprimand during these meals. We stayed out of management and worked on the relationships. This effort didn’t stop our children from making choices we disagreed with, but it kept our children bonded to us. It kept us unified as a family.

C. You can de-stress—If you determine that spilled milk and children falling off chairs are not interruptions and catastrophes but significant family life moments, then the dinner hour will bring you joy. Even when mealtimes feel hectic or disorganized, they have long-term benefits for children because if parents remain calm, kids aren’t stressed by dinnertime chaos. Remember, they think and see like kids and not as adults. And you, as you watch and listen to them, can breathe. You can let down your guard. You can relax. There is research that supports this. : )

D. You can build close relationships—Family meals are opportunities to develop more intimate family relationships. Although families live together, we each go about our business of living independently of one another. We aren’t all doing the same things each day. When we eat together, we have a few moments to reconnect, talk, laugh, and enjoy one another. Meals are a prime time for communication and understanding as we each live our individual lives.

E. You’ll have an improved sense of well-being—Anne Fishel, Ph.D., said, “Over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members” (Fishel 2016).

F. You can practice Being Present—Eating together allows you to implement Present strategies. You can discuss a book the family’s reading together. You can memorize scripture or quotes you like. You can tell jokes and laugh. You can share what happened in the community or thoughts you had during the day. When having a conversation, include everyone. Keep it positive. Avoid nagging, complaining, or controlling the discussion. Listen more than you talk.

What If No One Talks?

If up until now, dinner hasn’t been a productive time to connect and build relationships with your kids, try playing the Conversation Game. This game can get the flow going. Go around the table and have each person share a high point of the day and a low point. Eventually, when done consistently over time, it will begin to feel safe, and your family members will open up more. This game is fun, and you can practice seeing and hearing your children.

Dinner’s the perfect time to turn away from your technology. Turn off cell phones while at the table—mute your landline. Even the ringing can be a significant distraction. Turn off the TV! Having the TV on negates many of the benefits of a family meal and prevents you and your family from being Present with each other. The comfort of the food will make practicing this less painful. : )

Eating together is an opportunity to empty your mind of your endless to-do list and focus on your children. What are they saying? How do they look? What’s their body language? What did you miss during the rush to get out the door in the morning? Mealtime is a perfect time to practice being Present.

G. If you need one more reason to eat together as a family, ponder this: in a nationally representative Internet-based survey of 1,037 teens (ages 12 to 17), 71 percent said that they consider talking/catching up and spending time with family members as the best part of family dinners. These comments come from kids, just like your kids. They want and need time with you. They want your Presence, and one of the easiest ways to give it to the whole family at once is at the dinner table (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, “The Importance of Family Dinners”)!

I have loved finally having a table again. I enjoy looking at my mom and my husband. I savor the conversations and laughter. It has felt whole!

One time I asked my kids about their favorite memories. I’ll never forget Kates. It wasn’t about sitting at the table together but under it.

Kate—”I remember you and me sitting under the table reading a chapter of Katie John together. She painted her face with lipstick on picture day, and it wouldn’t come off. We laughed and laughed together.
Whatever works right. Being around or under your table, unifies families! Use yours!

This ‘table message’ is for all your friends who have families.

Let them know about it : ) 

INSPIRATION – Sample Mission Statements

When children are young

they learn more by what their parents are and the environment and feelings that surround them than through the explicit teachings or activities families provide. If this is true, ask yourself, “how do we, as a family, consciously develop who we are and the environment and feelings that make up our home? What are we doing to consciously articulate the values of our family?”

A family mission statement helps with this articulation. A family mission statement becomes part of your efforts to help your children understand where you are going as a family and is the inspiration for your family culture. In other words, it is what helps you consciously design the environment and feelings in your home.

Here are some samples for those that need inspiration

I. Habits of Our Home
We obey the Lord Jesus Christ.
We love, honor, and pray for each other.
We tell the truth.
We consider one another’s interest ahead of our own.
We do not hurt each other with unkind words or deeds.
We speak quietly and respectfully to one another.
When someone is sorry, we forgive him.
When someone is happy, we rejoice with him.
When someone is sad, we comfort him.
When someone needs correction, we correct him in love.
When we have something nice to share, we share it.
We take good care of everything God has given us.
We do not create unnecessary work for others.
When we have work to do, we do it without complaining.
When we open something, we close it.
When we turn something on, we turn it off.
When we don’t know what to do, we ask.
When we take something out, we put it away.
When we make a mess, we clean it up.
We arrive on time.
We do what we say.
We finish what we start.
We say please and thank you.
When we go out, we act as if we are in this house.
When necessary, we accept discipline and instruction.

II. Our Family Mission
To encourage others to become like Christ through loving relationships,
healthy lifestyles, and stimulating experiences.

III. The Olsen Family Mission Statement
We love and obey God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
We celebrate our family’s faith, heritage, and traditions.
We show our love for one another in word and deed; we pray for each other; we are
courteous, caring, positive, supportive, and considerate.
We live a healthy lifestyle, and maintain order and cleanliness in the home.
We raise up children in the way they should go; making learning together an integral
part of daily life with books and enriching experiences.
We optimize the competing forces in our lives for good: health, wealth, aesthetics, rest,
exercise, recreation, work, skills, and knowledge.
We enjoy life today and live it fully; we accept the wonderful gifts from God:
forgiveness of sins and eternal life through the sacrifice of His Son.
We are wise in the way we use our time, talents, and money; we establish good habits,
help others, and teach them the truth of God’s salvation.
We contribute something of worth to the community; maintain the environment, mankind’s institutions, and religious, political, cultural, social, and individual freedoms, all to glorify God

IV. The Palmer Family Mission Statement
The Joyful Palmers are a Team! Yeah!
We love, create, and protect family time, both one-one and everyone together.
We talk about our needs, thoughts, and feelings, and we carefully listen to each other.
We treat each other with respect, patience, and kindness.
We speak and act in a way that allows the spirit to be with us.
We nurture, support, and celebrate each other’s ambitions, dreams, and missions.
We are always honest and do the right thing even when no one is looking.
We courageously commit to public virtue.
We know that God loves us and we are wonderful and amazing!
We build our knowledge, skills, and attitudes of self-reliance and freedom.
We make everything around us better and more beautiful.
We build others up through service, sharing, and love.
We protect our home and the Spirit dwells here.
We learn, live, and share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Love is our compass and our anchor.

V. Family Mission Statement
We, the , believe that our purpose as a family is to . We will accomplish this by:
• valuing and as our main guiding principals
• making our home a place of , , and
• prioritizing above lesser values
• interacting with each other in a spirit of

VI. ’s Family Mission Statement
We are compassionate and kind.
We are committed to family.
We will be caring in our relationships with our family and friends.
We want to be role models and guides for our children.
We will encourage creative expression in each other.
We will lovingly support each other as we strive to reach our individual potentials.
We will grow old and wise together.
Our home will be filled with love and laughter.
Our sanctuary will inspire and renew us, enabling us to contribute our best to the world.
Our home will be a haven for our family and friends to gather and share life’s ups and downs.
Our home will be a nurturing place for children and animals.
Our home will be a safe and comfortable place for self-expression.
We enjoy helping others in our daily lives.
We strive to work with passion and discipline.
We want to bring the love and positive energy from our relationship into our careers and the world around us.
We will live our lives in a manner that is free from harm to other living beings.
We want to bring the peace within our home, to our world community.

Having a family mission statement can make all the difference in the feeling and atmosphere in your home. If you haven’t already read the four-part series on how to involve your family in creating a mission statement. You will be glad you did.

Part I,   Part II,    Part III,    Part IV

If you know a family that would benefit from having a Family Mission Statement let them know help is here. : )