What’s the Secret to Family Devotions?

As Christian parents, we firmly believe that one of the most important jobs we have is teaching our four children about our faith. For centuries, parents regularly engaged in the practice of systematically teaching their children biblical truths, often from manuals of Christian doctrine called catechisms. But that formal way of educating our children fell out of favor gradually, and today, many Christian families don’t have any form of regular teaching to pass on to their children the essential elements of our faith.

Too many times, we expect the church to be the primary teachers of our faith and its scripture. Debb Hacket, a mom in Northern Virginia, has devotions with her two girls before school. “I’m not always consistent but I try. I do it so they head into school armed and reassured by the Word and in the knowledge that they are perfectly loved by Jesus, no matter what the day throws at them. It’s also a way to encourage them to make good choices and be kind to others.”

We have family devotions after dinner, as that best fits with our schedule of having different school start times and work obligations first thing. We sometimes have discussions based on topics that came up in school as well as viewing current events through the lens of Scripture.

Family devotions should be a top priority in our homes over sports, music or other lessons. What could be more important than teaching our kids about God? Here are some thoughts on how to get started or continue your own family’s devotions.

It only takes two. When we were first married, we made family devotions a priority. In addition to our own private devotions, my husband and I read through and discussed books like Henry Scudder’s The Christian’s Daily Walk as well as books of the Bible. Incorporating family devotions into the fabric of our lives together before we had kids made it so much easier to continue once we started welcoming little ones into our family. Don’t wait until you have kids to have family devotions.

Understanding grows. Another stumbling block to family devotions is young kids or babies. But you don’t wait until your kids are “old enough” to teach them about God. While you’re not going to reach for John Calvin to read to your toddler, you also don’t have to merely rely on sanitized Bible story books, either. Let your kids grow into devotions by giving them more meat than fluff.

Have a plan. If you rely on pulling together family devotions after dinner each night, you will soon find yourself floundering (and yes, I speak from experience!). Take some time to talk with your spouse about what you want to study together as a family. It might be a book on Christian living, or it might be a topic, like servanthood. But knowing what you’ll study each evening help you overcome the post-dinner (or breakfast!) lull.

Mix things up. You don’t have to do the same thing every time. We had a rotation in our home for several years, alternating memorizing Bible verses, learning catechism questions and answers (My article “Teaching Your Faith Through Catechesis” has details on how to use catechisms to impart doctrine truths to our kids), reading from the Bible, and singing a hymn together. Having different things on different days kept us on track and made the time together more fruitful. One family told me recently that they had a family brainstorming session and came up with 17 different devotion ideas or exercises. “After dinner, we have Alexa randomly select a number and we do whatever that devotion idea is.” Ideas range from praying (for leaders, missionaries, friends, etc.), reading from one of the kids’ devotionals, discussing the Sunday sermon, making a movie about a Bible story and writing a psalm.

Go for substance over flash. Make sure you don’t obliterate the message or truth you’re trying to convey by the means you’re conveying it. In other words, don’t let flashy methods obscure the essential truths. Sure, have fun with devotions but keep your eye on the what you’re trying to impart instead of the how.

Start small. Begin with one day a week. Aim for consistency on that, then add a second, then a third. Soon, you’ll be up to five, six or seven days.

Allow for life happens. Sometimes, you’ll miss a day here or there, but pick up the next night and move forward. Don’t let a particularly crazy week derail your devotions entirely.

Include prayer time. We started a practice several years ago of rotating who would pray for the family when devotions were over. We would each have a chance to give a prayer request, then the child or parent would pray out loud for the requests. This has been very precious to us as parents, hearing our children pray for one another and for us.

Above all, don’t let your own lack of knowledge or feeling of inadequacy stop you from teaching your children about your faith. You are their mom or dad—you are already well-equipped to share the Gospel and its truths with your kids.

Until next time,
Sarah

Sarah’s Favorite Family Devotional Aides

Want to have family devotions but aren’t sure what to read? Here are a few of my favorite family devotion resources.

The Life of Christ for the Young by Richard Newton. All ages. Charles Spurgeon called Richard Newton “The Prince of Preachers to the young.” You’ll see why in this three-volume work that shows children (and adults!) the work of Christ from Genesis to Revelation. Don’t let the nineteenth century language stop you from adding these volumes to your devotional library. My children were captivated by the stories and truths that shine throughout this work.

The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos. Up to 13. This retelling of the Bible doesn’t dumb down scripture. Catherine Vos uses biblical stories to show kids what’s really important—what’s going on in their own hearts—and how God used circumstances to bring about his ultimate plan of salvation through his son, Jesus Christ.

Great Bible Question & Answer Book. Up to 13. There are a lot of versions of this type of book, but this is the we used as a family to go through the Old and New Testaments in question form. Our kids loved reading the questions aloud, asking for answers, then reading the correct answer from the book.

Bible Memory Verses. All ages. My pastor put together a list of verses that represented the major theme in each book of the Bible. For the Old Testament, there’s roughly one verse for each book. For the New Testament, there’s approximately two verses for each book. We’ve found this very handy when thinking about which Scripture to have our children know by heart. Contact me for a PDF of these verses.

Early Playtime

Q: Our two older children, ages 4 and 3, share a bedroom. In the mornings, they like to get up very early (5 a.m.!) and play together. My husband and I usually get up multiple times to tell them to stay in bed quietly until it’s time to get up. We have a special clock that turns green at 6:45 a.m. to tell them it’s okay to get up. This is our biggest battle with them right now.

We don’t really know what to do anymore as it’s an every morning battle to get them to stay in bed. They go to bed at 7 p.m. and go right to sleep without issue and do not get up during the night. When they get up early, they stay in their room except for one bathroom trip.

Should we keep trying to enforce the rule of them staying in bed? Should we tell them they can play as long as they’re quiet and don’t break safety rules (like not getting in the closet and the younger one not getting on the older one’s loft bed)? Thank you for your help!

A: This is one battle you’re not going to win, so my advice is to stop trying. From your question, the preschoolers stay in their room except for one bathroom trip, and they sleep through the night, giving you and your husband lovely adult time from 7 p.m. onward.

So give up the stay-in-their-bed battle. Tell them that they must stay in their rooms with one bathroom trip each and they should play quietly, remembering the rules, until the clock turns green. Then leave them be. And enjoy the blessing of having 4 and 3 year olds who go to bed without fuss and stay in their rooms come morning.

This really isn’t worth parental angst, and these two will eventually start sleeping in more as they grow.

For more information on how much sleep preschoolers, elementary school-age kids and teens should get, read my article, “Why you need to pay attention to older kids’ sleep habits” in the Washington Post.

Excuse Me, Your Cell is Showing

By Linda Wood Rondeau

When I recently visited a young relative’s home, three children and two adults sat in the living room with the television on and everyone using their own phones. No one talked with one another. I wondered if anyone paid attention to the television at all since they were busy texting, snapping and sending.

Children seem to have an insatiable desire for technology these days. Cell phones have become the new computer—instantly accessible. Funny they are still called phones because no one seems to really “call” anyone, especially the younger generation. They either send a social media message or text. Social media sites lure users to spend hours of mindless activity, or what seems mindless to other generations.

Nowadays, to take away a child’s cell phone seems to be the worst kind of “grounding” a child can receive.

So how does a parent encourage appropriate use of this device? As in all aspects of parenting, modeling the behavior is still the most powerful teaching tool in the parent’s arsenal. Children live what they see—no matter how much you preach for them to do otherwise.

Here are few things you can do to help shape your child’s phone behavior:

  1. If you feel your child’s time on devices should be limited, limit your time as well. Let your children see you enjoying activities without your smartphone as a constant companion.
  2. Do not use your device while driving unless you have a voice activated or hands-free phone. Pull off the road if you receive a text or call while driving. Explain to your child why you are doing so.
  3. When someone is speaking to you, put your phone down. Do not try to multi-task your human interactions with electronics. Humans are the ones who will suffer.
  4. These days, smartphones are like an appendage. But we can still insist on etiquette where phone use is concerned. The GOLDEN RULE applies to our phone use as it does in every area of life.
  5. When in public, use your device only if in an emergency. Stop when you need to use the device. Don’t walk and talk, especially in a crowded situation like a store or crossing the road. Of course, everyone has a different definition of emergency. But let common sense prevail. Ask yourself if your life will significantly change if you do not use your device at this instant.
  6. Your immediate need to respond sends a subliminal message to your companion that what they say is not as important as whoever just texted you. If you must use your phone, offer a polite explanation to those around you. Find a quiet corner to converse.

Culture is what it is, and each social group has its own ideas of etiquette. Help your children to be observant of those around them and to adapt, putting others needs ahead of their own.

About Linda Wood Rondeau
Award-winning author, Linda Wood Rondeau writes to demonstrate our worst past, surrendered to God becomes our best future. A veteran social worker, Linda now resides in Hagerstown, Md. Her most recent novel is The Fifteenth Article. Readers may visit her web site at www.lindarondeau.com. Contact the author on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus and Goodreads.  

Reforming a Picky Eater

Q: My 17-month-old son is very uninterested in eating most of the time. I am still nursing but I would like to start weening in the next month. However, I’m concerned because he doesn’t seem to be eating much. He will eat a certain type of chicken nuggets, boiled eggs, cheese, most fruits and snacks that I try to avoid as much as possible. Sometimes he will eat pizza. 

I can’t tell if he chooses what to eat by the way it looks or if it’s because he wants to be able to pick it up himself or if it’s based on familiarity. I tried to give him a different type of chicken the other day and he would have none of it. I resorted back to his normal chicken and he ate it all. Dinner typically ends up all over the floor with virtually nothing in his mouth. When he was younger, we had a weight gaining issue, so I’m super aware of his eating habits. He does not seem to have a weight gaining issue at the moment. Thank you for your advice.

A: Your son is a picky eater because you’ve allowed him to become one. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but that appears to be what happened based on your question. Your son had weight-gaining issues when he was younger, but you’re still operating as if he still does and that is hampering your ability to teach him to eat a wide variety of foods, including healthy fruits and vegetables.

Let me put it this way: Do you want your son to grow up eating only pizza, chicken nuggets, eggs, cheese, fruit and snacks? That’s a very limiting diet, but because you fear that if he refuses to eat something at one meal, he will stop gaining weight, you’ve allowed him—instead of you you as the mom—to dictate what he eats.

Of course he’s going to go for the easy foods, the ones that taste better to him, and refuse the unfamiliar. All kids would eat his diet if they could because it does taste good, but one of our jobs as parents is to give our kids an expansive palate by introducing them over and over to different foods, including fruits and vegetables, cooked a variety of ways.

Here are a few suggestions to get your toddler eating better. First, stop worrying that he’s not going to get enough. Toddlers go through eating stages. When they’re not growing, they tend to eat less. So if he happens to refuse what you’ve made for dinner, don’t sweat it. When he’s hungry, he will eat. And skipping a few meals won’t make his weight dive bomb.

Second, stop fixing him special meals at dinner time. You can serve him what he likes for breakfast and lunch, but at dinner, he gets what everyone else does. Give him a tiny teaspoon of everything on the table. Then allow him seconds of what he wants (from the foods on the table) after he’s finished those little bites.

Third, remember that he will fuss and fidget and refuse and throw the food. You’ve given him complete control over his eating for his entire (short) life, so wresting it back will take a little effort because he’s not going to give up without a fight.

Fourth, for the nursing, wean him with the step-down method (dropping one nursing at a time, then a few days later, another nursing). Replace those nursings with milk in a sippy or other cup (skip the bottle—in my opinion, it’s easier not to have to wean off the bottle later).

Fifth, keep in mind that you’re not just feeding a toddler—you’re training a budding adult on how to eat for life. Taking the long view by focusing on having a child willing to try all foods, eat the ones he doesn’t like, and know what makes a balanced meal will help keep you on track.

Things You Never Thought You’d Say as a Parent

We all say strange things to our kids! This month’s original cartoon is inspired by Elizabeth Maddrey of Woodbridge, Va. “The licking is apparently a thing at our house. I don’t know why because neither my husband or I go around licking things or people—so it’s not like this is a learned behavior. The first time I said that was after I had finished a spate of ‘don’t touch your brother,’ ‘don’t hit your brother,’ ‘I don’t care if he’s about to fall to his death, don’t put your hands on your brother,’ and so forth. The smarty kid then decided that licking was not putting his hands on his brother and so therefore might be acceptable. In fact, it is not,” she explained.

Post your “Things You Never Thought You’d Say as a Parent” comment below—yours might be featured as a cartoon!

Should a Preschooler Have Chores?

Q: What chores are appropriate for a four-year-old to start doing on a regular basis?

A: This is a great question because it shows that you realize your four-year-old can—and should—contribute to the family’s upkeep. Too many times, we adults forget that young children, even toddlers, can do chores and help out around the house. Sure, a preschooler isn’t going to cook a four-course meal for us, but there’s lots he or she can do to contribute to the household and learn essential skills to boot.

Chores are as essential to a child as regular sleep and food because it solidifies his place in your home. A child who doesn’t help out around the house on a regular basis can acquire a sort of “guest” mentality. Chores, both daily, weekly and occasionally, ground a child in his proper place in the family.

And four year olds can do a lot! Some suggestions for weekly chores:

  • Helping to collect trash
  • Sorting/matching socks after laundry
  • Changing bathroom towels
  • Washing kitchen or bathroom floor with rag/bucket
  • Dusting baseboards

Some suggestions for daily chores:

  • Setting the table for dinner
  • Clearing own dishes after meals
  • Picking up/taking care of own toys/things
  • Making bed
  • Making own breakfast or lunch

Other occasional chores could include picking up sticks, watering plants, weeding gardens, helping with mulch, etc.

For more on how to implement chores and suggestions for how to teach kids how to do chores, I recommend my ebook Chores for Kids ($2.99).

For what every child should learn while living at home, read my article, “The key life skills parents should be teaching their children” in the Washington Post.

February Parenting Thought of the Month: The Consequence Trap

On Feb. 28, Sarah will host a webinar on “The Truth About Consequences.” Sign up today!

Today, many parents have a meh relationship with consequences—they know punishments should be doled out when a child misbehaves, but they don’t like having to carry out the sentence. The trouble lies in the fact that most parents view consequences as only punitive—that is, to punish a child for doing wrong.

That way of thinking makes it hard for moms and dads to be consistent with punishments and to actually levy strong enough consequences to make a difference in their child’s behavior. What they often forget or fail to recognize is that consequences have a purpose beyond a “sentence” for wrongdoing.

Consequences have two main objectives:

  1. To make a child feel bad about the misbehavior AND
  2. To make a child think twice about misbehaving in the future.

Most of the time, children don’t feel bad about doing the wrong thing on their own. It’s something we must teach our children. Not to shame them, but to help them recognize that there are right things to do and there are wrong things to do. Kids who don’t learn the difference usually have a more difficult time navigating life’s rough waters.

Images Copyright: Kat and Steve Smith | ks-photography.com.au

 

To achieve the first objective, parents must be willing to allow their child to feel temporary (emotional mostly) pain or discomfort when correcting the misbehavior. A child who cries when caught with a hand in the cookie jar is feeling emotional pain, but mostly because he or she was caught. Levying a consequence will reinforce that wasn’t the right thing to do—and help the child remember not to reach into the cookie jar again without permission. Consequences should also deter a child from misbehavior in the future.

Sometimes, though, moms and dads don’t carry out a sentence that will impact a child’s future. In other words, we sometimes will levy minor punishments in the hopes that will curb future “crimes.” And when it doesn’t—as will happen at times—we pile on more minor consequences in the vain hope that those “slaps on the wrist” will change a child’s wrong direction.

We also misstep by telling a child exactly what will happen when he or she does something wrong, i.e., “You leave your bike out one more time, and I’m putting it away for a week.” On occasion, this will work as a determent or an incentive to correct behavior, but more often, a child simply decides he or she can “handle” the punishment, so does the crime.

What is more effective is a parent who simply does something when a child misbehaves, but the child has no idea what that will be. We follow this practice in our home, in that, we rarely tell our kids what will happen if they misbehave. What they do know is that we are very creative in our punishments, and that we “hit them where it hurts,” i.e., we tailor consequences to have the most impact on that particular child. Not a one-size-fits-all approach.

When a child doesn’t know what will happen—but does know it will be something that impacts his/her way of life negatively—the child will be more apt to think before doing the misdeed. That’s why you don’t always tell exactly what will happen, and you make sure your punishments are designed to maximize discomfort for the child. This is to help the child’s conscious to develop and to provide an external check to misbehavior.

Here’s one example from my household. When my oldest daughter, Naomi, was 10 years old, one of her daily chores was to refill the cats’ water dish before school each morning, which was in the downstairs bathroom. She started to get sloppy about it, and I would go downstairs after they were on the bus to find the water dish empty or nearly so. Nagging her didn’t help, and neither did a week of early-to-bed nights.

Then I realized she didn’t care enough to “remember” her chore—it was up to me to make her an offer she couldn’t refuse. The next day, I put up a 30 block chart on the fridge with Naomi’s name at the top. When she noticed it after school, I told her what it meant: She was to fill the cats’ water dish every day for 30 days, telling her dad or me so we could check it. If she missed a day, the 30 days started all over from day 1. Once she had gone 30 consecutive days without reminders or misses, she would get her books back.

Silence from Naomi. Then, “What do you mean I’ll get my books back?” I had noticed that she was reading in the mornings before school Now I love it that all of my kids love to read, but in Naomi’s case, it was interfering with her morning chores. So I took them away. For a month. No reading at all at home. She threw a fit (of course), but do you think she missed filling the cats’ water dish once in the next 30 days? Nope. Suddenly, her “memory” problem was fixed! Have I had to bring out the big guns like that again with her? Nope, that’s a memory that sticks! Have I had to remind her younger sister (2 years younger) to do her chores? Nope, she’s prompt because she doesn’t want something similar to happen to her.

Consequences should be memorable, cause a child discomfort, temporary (they don’t last forever in most cases), and provide a lasting lesson to deter future infractions.

Walking the Fine Line With Play-Fighting Boys

Q: We have four year old and three year old boys. They wrestle, fight, hit each other, push each other, etc., half of the time happily and the other half angrily. We know this is very normal behavior. But where do you draw the line? 

Our oldest is currently on the chart system (see the Discipline tab on this site for a description of how Charts work) for disobedience and tantrums. If he hits, kicks, threatens us, calls us names or throws things at anyone, he goes straight to his room. Also, if he hits anyone with an object he goes straight to his room. 

But with the boys tussling, we’re not sure how much to interfere with their hitting and being mean to each other. It’s very equal, one is not worse than the other. Our friends and family all smile and say things like, “They’re typical siblings,” and “They’re just being boys.” We want them to be boys, not girls, but how much is too much?

A: Ah, boys! So energic! So fighting with each other 24/7! At least, that’s been much of my experience, especially when my two boys were preschoolers (they are close in age as well, now 9 and 11). On the one hand, you want to encourage wrestling and play fighting because they do love to do it. But on the other hand, you don’t want it to devolve into something nasty and hurt their relationship with each other.

The line between “everyone’s having fun” to “he hurt me” is razor thin. So how do we guide our boys to have fun but not cross that line? Here are some things that worked for us.

Banish the name calling. We absolutely forbid any derogatory names at all—no stupid, dummy, moron, etc. When we hear one child call another one such a name, we immediately call him or her on it and put a stop to it. Now, this doesn’t eliminate the name calling entirely, but it does keep it to a minimum and lets all the kids know it’s unacceptable.

Separate when necessary. Sometimes, the boys will want to play together more than they should because too much togetherness can trigger more rough play. But at 3 and 4, your boys aren’t able to voluntarily take themselves out of the playtime when things start to head down that pathway. So enforce time apart a couple of times a day (like for half an hour in the morning, and again in the afternoon). This will help calm things down.

Remind them how brothers treat each other. We often say, “Brothers love each other,” “Brothers treat each other with kindness,” “Brothers aren’t mean to each other” to our boys. We also talk one-on-one on occasion when we see one being meaner than the other on how to make allowances for differences, how to adjust their own expectations, and how they wouldn’t like someone to treat them the same way (Golden Rule).

Give them separate activities when possible. It’s tempting to always lump the boys together for activities at this age, but occasionally having one do something the other isn’t can help their playtime. Don’t insist that both go to the same parties or playdates.

Above all, give them space and time to be noisy, loud and boisterous in their play with each other. All too often, we shush and hush and constrict our kids when it’s not necessary. So yes, let them be boys but also guide them to be kind to each other.