Teachable Moments

By Carol Kinsey         

Over the years, my husband and I have looked for teachable moments in parenting. Teachable moments give us an opportunity to drive home an important principle to our children. One memorable teachable moment happened while we were in the process of repairing the electrical switches in our hallway. Halfway through the repair, my husband realized he needed to run to the hardware store. Rather than putting it all back together, he kept the electric circuit turned off, but left the wires exposed.

Our girls were 4 and 6 at the time and even though the fuse was off, we didn’t want them to touch it. We stood beside the light switch, explained the risk of electric shock and told them not to touch it.

Later that day, we noticed the switch had been rotated. Calling both our children to the hallway, we pointed at the wall. “Did one of you touch the light switch?”

After an awkward silence, Autumn spoke up. “It was Breanna. I saw her touch it. I told her not to.”

I’m not sure Breanna remembered if she did or didn’t touch the switch, but she shrugged and said, “Sorry.”

After another lecture on the dangers of an exposed electric outlet, a talk on obedience and a time-out, Breanna’s punishment was served.

Hours later, we got the girls ready for bed and prayed with them.

That’s when Autumn burst into tears. “It was me! I touched the light switch—not Breanna!”

My husband and I listened while she confessed. As parents, we felt terrible. We’d punished Breanna for a crime her sister committed.

In that moment, we had a teaching opportunity.

We reminded our girls that we are all sinners, but Jesus took our punishment by dying on the cross for our sins.

We looked at Breanna. “What you did tonight was kind of like what Jesus did for us. Autumn deserved the time-out because she touched the light switch—but you paid your sister’s penalty.”

Breanna nodded.

“Don’t I get punished?” Autumn asked.

“No, Autumn.” My husband shook his head. “Your sister already took the punishment. Now it’s up to you to accept the gift she gave you.”

We showed them Bible verses that explained how Christ’s death on the cross was the punishment for our sins.

Autumn hugged her sister. She apologized for lying and thanked Breanna for taking her punishment.

Breanna was happy for the hug and let the whole thing go.

Autumn asked God to forgive her for lying and disobeying.

That special teaching moment has stayed with me over the years. Not only was it a great lesson in what Christ did for us, but it was also a special moment in parenting. Parenting is an awesome opportunity to love, teach, nurture, witness and build into the life of another person. In the process, we grow in our own relationship with Christ, learn patience, humility, selflessness and more. What an honor God has given us in allowing us to raise little lives created in His image.

Look for those teachable moments.

About Carol Kinsey
Carol Kinsey lives with her husband and their two daughters on a farm in rural Ohio. She and her husband have been involved in youth ministry for more than 20 years and currently serve at a small country church, which inspired her first published novel, Under the Shadow of a Steeple (2013). She has also published Witness Protection (2017), Greater Love (2015), and Until Proven Innocent (2014), and a writing curriculum, Creative Writing Through Literature, which launched in 2016. Carol has been a member of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2016. Along with her fiction, Carol is also published in several nonfiction venues. She has a passion for writing exciting, Christ-centered fiction that uplifts, encourages, and gives glory to God. For more information, visit carolkinsey.net.

Letting Teen Make Own Decisions

Q: I feel like I am in a quandary of sorts. My youngest child, who will be 17 next month, wants desperately to go with her best friend to a haunted castle. My oldest went to this when he turned 18 because we felt he should start making those decisions on his own. What is your opinion on this regarding older teens?

I hate anything remotely dark or evil and have always despised anything like it, but I also don’t want to be one of those over-the-top helicopter moms who shelter their child so much that they rebel when they are on their own. Can you give any advice for us teen parents on this topic? Is it time for me to let go and just start letting her make these decisions?

A: This fall, we allowed our 15-year-old 9th grader go to a haunted walk with a friend (and the friend’s dad). Not something I ever wanted to do (and her younger sister—who’s the same age as the friend—didn’t want to go either), but sometimes, it is time to let them make those decisions as teens. What we ended up doing with my daughter was to tell her that she had to pay for half the ticket price herself. That meant if she really wanted to go, she’d part with some of her cash.

What we did was talk about it ahead of time, making sure they understood what they were getting into. And we regularly discuss evil/good, what we should watch, what God says we should or shouldn’t do, pray together, etc. It’s our job as parents to impart our family values to them as they grow up so that when they reach the teen years, they have a firm foundation upon which to make their own decisions.

When kids are teens, it’s time to start letting them make these low-impact decisions. It’s a haunted castle, so things will be gory and scary and, well, kind of fun if you like to be scared (which some kids do), but in a controlled environment.

I also find that my husband is a good counterpoint to my own inclinations, because I’m with you on avoiding that sort of stuff because of how it impacts me. But it doesn’t affect my husband nearly as much, nor does it my oldest daughter. It’s important to offer guidance but to let them make their own decisions in these types of things.

Yes, it’s hard sometimes to let go and let them experience the joys and trials of making their own decisions, but for teens to be ready to make those decisions in the real world, they need practice in situations like these. Will they make bad decisions? Of course they will (didn’t you as a teen? I know I did), but from the safety of the family, we’re there to help them recover and move on.

 

A “Death” Wish?

Q: I have a 7 year old son who just happily started second grade. He is extremely bright and normal in every way. No major discipline problems, no unexplained behavior. Maybe a year or so ago he started occasionally say to me “I’ve lived too long” or “Life feels like a dream to me” completely out of the blue. I passed it off as an immature way of explaining a feeling of déjà vu or something like that.

But recently, he came home from school with a writing worksheet where he was to fill in sentences starting with things like “I am…”, “I want…”, etc.  He had written “I dream to die,” “I try to die” and “I wish to die.” When I (as calmly as possible) asked him to explain he first looked abashed, and then said “I’ve lived too long.”

He got extremely frustrated when I asked him to explain a different way because I didn’t understand. He said he didn’t know how else to explain it, and he stormed off to his room. Later he came back out and said he doesn’t like his life. Again I asked for clarification and eventually he told me that his brother talks too much and I ask too many questions. 

I told him that we all love him and don’t want him to die, and left it alone for the rest of the night. I have sent the teacher a note asking her to take a look and give me her opinion but I am wondering if I need to seek counseling. His normal behavior is incongruous with these kind of statements, but there’s always that nagging feeling that the “I’ve lived too long” comments are not quite normal either.   

A: My youngest son (we’ll call him “Sam”), now 9, went through a phase around your son’s age where Sam said on a daily basis that he “wanted to die at age 19.” We quickly realized that he didn’t have an explanation as to why he said this—by all other accounts, he was a happy, well-adjusted child—he just had this “thing” about dying when he reached 19.

We decided the best course of action (as it is with most child obsessions) was to monitor his behavior from afar and ignore the “dying talk.” We did impose one restriction: He was not to talk about death or dying at school, because it freaked out his teachers (who have been trained to notice when any kid mentions death/dying as a suicide prevention method). We told Sam this because he had written something like “I want to die” on a class assignment.

The funny thing about kids is that they often don’t know why certain thoughts pop into their minds—and at this age, they rarely have the maturity to delve deeper into their subconscious to figure out what they mean by death or dying.

But the other funny thing about kids is that the more a grownup talks to a child about an obsession (or fear), the more that child clings to that obsession or fear. In other words, we adults—as well-meaning as we are—can escalate these things when ignoring and not trying to get a child to explain or “get talked out of” or see “reason” allows the fear or obsession to die a natural death.

Already, you’re feeding the obsession by asking him lots of questions—to which, he doesn’t have any answers (or, probably more accurately, any answers that will make sense to you, as an adult). Children are illogical beings and what goes on in their minds often won’t make a lick of sense to us.

So what to do? As long as your son appears to be behaving as usual—no deviants from his usual demeanor, etc.—then don’t worry about his dying talk. In fact, just ignore it completely. When Sam would say, “I’m going to die in my sleep when I’m 19,” we all shrugged and changed the subject.

Remember, kids get weird thoughts and are strange creatures! It sounds like your son is just in a dying phase and I suspect he will outgrow it as he gets focused on other things and matures some more.

As for my Sam? He hasn’t uttered those words about dying in a very long time.

Taming the Christmas Gimmees

From the commercials on TV to the displays in stores, everything this time of year is designed to create a green-eyed monster of envy in our kids. Today, with the holiday season starting either before or immediately after Halloween, there is more opportunities for children to get wound up about the December holidays. With so much focus in stores, in commercials, in product catalogs, etc., on getting what you want for Christmas, kids become overly focused on themselves, and thus become more stressed or bratty because of that mindset.

We live in a culture that encourages children to get all they can. Kids are bombarded with the message that they should have—and deserve to have—anything they want. Children compile wish lists that run to pages and pages of often high-priced toys and gadgets, and many kids demand gifts that are not practical (like a pony) or not affordable (like the entire American Girl doll collection).

For parents, helping kids develop a more giving, rather than getting, attitude towards Christmas is to manage holiday Christmas expectations in themselves and their children by thinking and discussing the holidays now. Keep in mind that if you ask adults today what they most remember about Christmas, it’s usually not the presents but the time spent doing something with their family and friends.

How can you guide your child toward more reasonable gift expectations?

Get to the why behind the want. What is it about this present that appeals to your child? Figuring that out will help guide you in what to get your child.

Reign in the wish lists. Set a dollar limit (we do $30 or under for most gifts), plus a number of items. We also didn’t allow kids to send grandparents or relatives a list of items that individually cost more than $20 each.

Think about less costly or more practical alternatives. Maybe instead of a pony, you could offer a child riding lessons or take them to see a horse show.

Quality verses quantity. There’s a time in a child’s life when more gifts is important. One year, I bought lots of little gifts, mostly under $5, for my four kids and wrapped each separately. They will thrilled, it was affordable and fun. But as the kids get older, you can talk about the fact that sometimes the price tag of one gift means that’s basically it.

Experiences versus tangible gifts. Sometimes, you might consider offering a child an experience over a present he could hold. For example, last Christmas, my two girls wanted to see the musical Wicked, which was coming to a local theater near Christmas. Given the price of the performance tickets, we opted to make that their big gift and only gave them a few smaller presents to open on Christmas. Some families opt to go on a special vacation together around the holidays rather than open a lot of gifts.

Communicate expectations ahead of time. If it will be a tighter holiday financially, let them know that but in a way that doesn’t cause additional worry. Instead of saying, “We can’t afford a big Christmas,” try, “This year, we’re scaling back on actual presents, but we’re going to do more family things to celebrate.”

Involve them in giving. This time of year especially, it’s important to direct kids’ outward rather than inward. Adopt a family, Toys for Tots, Operation Christmas Child, and other ways to get a child excited about helping others.

Above all, remember what it is you enjoy as a family around Christmas, and try to make that your focal point, rather than run yourself ragged with piling up gifts.

Freshman Blowing (Vaping) Smoke

Q: My 14-year-old freshman has been telling me how he vapes in the high school bathroom with friends. My husband and I do not smoke or vape, and we have made it very clear that he needs to wait until he no longer lives in our house to do either. However, he keeps talking about it, telling us which vape pen he wants to buy, and today he even showed me a video of him vaping!

Why in the world would he be doing all this when we would never find out otherwise? We are not sure how to handle thing because obviously we cannot keep him home from school (where this is happening.) We can punish him when he tells us—this may stop him from making these confessions but I am not even sure about that. Why would he feel the need to tell us? It is almost like he is showing off! Any suggestions?

A: He’s telling you because he’s a young teen, he needs to confess, and he wants to connect with you. For which you should be grateful on all counts, yes? He’s not showing off to his parents, per se, but vaping is something that excites him, that has captured his interest, and that his crowd is into. And a young teen excited means he has to talk about it…even to his disapproving parents.

What can you do about it? That depends. First, I will point out that many states have laws that prohibit young teens from vaping, so check yours to see if he’s breaking the law by using electronic cigarettes. Regardless of that, I’m fairly certain his high school has rules about use of electronic cigarettes (and regular cigarettes) on campus anywhere, so find out and then inform your son that you will be turning him to the school authorities for breaking the rules. If he thinks he’s old enough to vape, then he’s old enough to face the consequences.

As to what you should do about all his vape talk, have you tried engaging him? What about vaping does he like? Does he think it makes him look cool? Is this what his friends do? See if you can have honest, interested conversations to delve beneath the surface of the vaping talk and get to the heart of the matter.

Then establish house rules. Some that come to mind are no illegal substances in the house, no smoking or vaping in the house, and no underage consumption (tobacco, e-cigarettes, alcohol, etc.). Go over the house rules with him to ensure he understands. But also tell him that these are for the good of the family and for him as well. Remind him that he can call or text you anytime to be picked up and you’ll do it without question (those can come later).

And reconnect with him on a more positive level, such as engaging in his favorite outdoor activity or trying a new one. Find ways to show him how much you care about him. I don’t think we can spend too much time with our teens showing them our love in both word and deed.

Developing Family Devotions

By Karen Whiting

My daughter Rebecca remarked, “My earliest memories all center around family devotions. They were my favorite times.” Devotions became the heart of our family life. Through the years I realized family devotions provide many hidden benefits.

Devotions build cognitive and communication skills. Reading the Bible enriches vocabulary and builds reading comprehension. Discussions help children think analytically. They learn to share ideas.

Family bonds grow strong with devotions. When we faced the devastation of Hurricane Andrew and $99,000 in damages, my children faced it with courage. We studied Nehemiah as we rebuilt, which covers both rebuilding the wall and the hearts of the people, and that bridged our needs too.

How we actually do devotions and keep going? There’s no set format but generally you’ll share scripture or a passage and discuss it. It’s more fun with hands-on fun added. We used a lot of materials and developed our own. When something didn’t work, we changed direction.

During our children’s elementary years, we included drama, science experiments, games and cooking. The object lesson format worked well. We invested in good materials.

As the children hit teen years, they wanted to dig deeper with adult studies on topics relevant to their lives. We used concordances, a biblical cyclopedic index and other resource materials. We responded to their needs.

What can you do? Here are some tips to make devotions work for your family.

  1. Buy a family devotional, journals and appropriate Bibles for each child.
  2. Be enthusiastic. Make a treasure hunt to let children find the new materials.
  3. Set some ground rules, like no phones or technology during devotions.
  4. Schedule time. Start slow, with 15 minutes twice a week and expand that when your family finds what works well.
  5. Use an incentive if needed. We stated, “Since God’s word is sweeter than honey, we can’t have dessert if we don’t have time for the best sweets.”
  6. Involve your children. Praise children for contributing. Include activities that appeal to each child, such as drama for the outgoing child, maps for the quiet thinker, and hands on fun for the kinesthetic learner. If a child states something incorrectly, don’t scold. Ask them to read the scripture out loud and talk about what it really means.
  7. Bridge time between devotions. So, if you studied Bible people who cooperated, plan a family project that takes cooperation and chat about how you’re doing something related to what you studied.
  8. Capture the memories with some photos or a family spiritual scrapbook. Post the photos in your home to show you value devotions.
  9. When things don’t work, discuss what can be changed or improved.
  10. Remember that children really want their parents to invest time in them and they will respond when you make sure the devotions are positive times and not lectures.
  11. Pray for God’s Holy Spirit to guide you.
  12. Be consistent.

I pray that you’ll find family devotions valuable.

About Karen Whiting
Karen Whiting is an international speaker, former television host and award-winning author of 25 books for women, children, military and families. She’s also a mom of five (including two rocket scientists) and a grandmother. She writes to help families thrive. She has written more than 700 articles for more than 60 publications. Karen writes for Leading Hearts, The Kid’s Ark, a radio network. Awards include the Christian Retailing 2014 Best Award, children’s nonfiction (The One Year My Princess Devotions) and the Military Writer’s Society of America Gold Medal (Stories of Faith and Courage from the Home Front).

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 Angelica Juarez of Imlay City, Michigan. While the cartoon depicts a little girl, it was Angelica’s 4-year-old son who, when she told him he was too young to go to Starbucks, replied, “No, you are the baby mom. I am the big person. You can’t have it—only me!”

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

Things You Never Thought You’d Say as a Parent

 

We all say strange things to our kids! This month’s original cartoon is from RH in Tujuana, Calif., who told this story: “We woke up to find ants in our kitchen. My oldest daughter, then maybe 3, was very curious. I talked to her about anteaters and such, then she asked if she could eat one. I said it wouldn’t hurt. To my surprise, she actually did. She said it tasted spicy, like cinnamon. The she lay flat on the floor by the line of ants like she was going to lick them up. And thus the quote!”

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

How to Help a Bullied Toddler

Q: My guy just turned two and has been in daycare since he was 12 weeks old. My husband and I both work full time and right now, it’s the only option. We love his school. It’s very enriching and he’s learned a ton, except… in the past few months I am getting a call weekly that my child has been bit. He has to bruises on his back right now from bites. He had one on his arm, another on his hand.

The directors and teachers keep saying “It’s developmentally appropriate at this age” [for kids to bite each other] blah blah blah. One or two bites, I get, but weekly? Not okay. They won’t tell us who is doing the biting, and they won’t tell us if it is a repeat offender (but at this point, it has to be or every kid in the class has been taking a shot at my kid).

Instead they are trying to say my 2-year-old needs to start saying, “Stop, I don’t like that.” They say part of the problem is that he is one of the only vocal kids, meaning the others don’t speak and take out their frustration by biting.

What the heck do we do? I do not want my guy getting aggressive and biting back because it’s happening to him. How can we continue to make school a fun place for him and keep him safe?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: My advice would be to look for a new daycare situation. Yes, children bite at this age, regardless of whether or not they are verbal, but to subject your son to biting with enough force to leave bruises on a regular basis, well, that’s another matter.

Your son saying, “Stop that” or something similar isn’t going to stop the biting—not for toddlers, who haven’t developed empathy and often are totally unaware that biting hurts. They also want to do what they want to do, so “telling” them to stop shouldn’t be the solution to this biting problem.

Frankly, I’m more concerned by the directors/teachers brushing this off as your son’s problem and looking to a two-year-old to solve it. Because children this age bite (and hit and push and throw things), a daycare center should train its teachers on how to stop this behavior. It boils down to more supervision, separation of the biter from other children, and perhaps short-term removal of chronic biters from the classroom until the biting phrase stops.

It sounds like they are doing neither of those things, and instead are saying the solution is to rely on the victim to stop the abuse. In my book, that’s not an acceptable adult response to this kind of problem. I realize that finding a new daycare situation won’t be easy, but it’s a necessary step to take for your son.

You might find a willing college student or older homeschooler eager to be an in-home nanny for a few weeks or longer to buy you some time to find a new daycare, one that will not expect a toddler to be part of a biting/hitting/pushing solution.

 

 

When a Child Reacts Badly to Discipline

For a video answer of this question, visit https://www.facebook.com/parentcoachnova/.

Q: I’ve been using the ticket method* for my fourth grader to tackle some ongoing behavior problems. When she loses all her tickets due to the target misbehaviors, the consequence is to be in her room the rest of the day. Instead of going to her room, she instead throws a major fit and refuses to go. What is the best course of action then?

A: Sometimes, we get hung up on the letter of the law—in this case, that your child isn’t complying with the directive to go to her room. Does that mean the punishment is ineffective? No. Does it mean you should levy different consequences? No. Does it mean you should just ignore the infraction? No.

In this particular case, your child is having a temper tantrum because her behavior choices have resulted in losing her freedom. For the tantrum itself, I’d ignore it. Walk away. When the child has calmed down, reiterate that she should go to her room. Don’t threaten. Don’t plead. Just state and give her The Look (you have one, right?) and stare her down until she complies. This might take a few tantrums before the child realizes that you’re not going to back down.

Even if the child outright refuses to go physically to her room, you can still act like the child is in her room. All other activities stop for the child—no electronics, no friends, etc. So she might be on the floor of the living room, but she’s still “in his room” in all the ways that count.

Remember, what you don’t want to happen is that you get into a battle of the wills with your child—making her go to his room physically, yelling at him to comply, etc. Stay calm, stay cool—you’ve got this!