Sassiness and the Toddler

Q: My 16-month-old shook her finger and said, “No, no” in a sassy way after my husband told her “no” when touching something she shouldn’t. How do I correct the sass back at this age appropriately?

A: My first response to your questions was, “Good luck with that,” but then I realized the written words couldn’t convey the twinkle in my eye and my sympathetic expression. I wouldn’t want you to think I was making light of your question, because I know how disturbing it can be to have a child so blatantly—and without remorse!—challenge our authority.

Because make no mistake about it—that’s exactly what your charming sasspot is doing. But in a toddler way that limits your response. If she were a teenager, my answer would be different. For a toddler, you have limitations due to her tender years and her immaturity.

She’s just over a year old, still growing, still exploring her universe. Her brain is developing at a rapid rate—her body can hardly keep up with all the new things her brain wants to do! This is one major reason why toddlers throw such massive temper tantrums. Their bodies aren’t coordinated enough to accomplish what their racing minds want to do. Everything’s new and exciting because everything is literally new and that’s exciting to them. There are worlds out there that need exploring, but a toddler brain doesn’t have the maturity to realize the hidden—and not-so-hidden—dangers lurking about in this wide new world.

All of which means she will look you in the eye and respond to your “nos,” with a wicked, little smile…then do exactly what you just told her not to do. Is she being willful? Yes. Is she being deliberately sassy? Not in exactly the same way as a child of four, ten or fourteen is being sassy. A toddler doesn’t consciously know her tone is sassy—she’s blissfully unaware of such nuances.

Therefore, a wise parent doesn’t correct a toddler’s tone of voice, just like that parent doesn’t correct a toddler’s eyerolls, shoulder shrugs or other nonverbal communication of disrespect or sass.

But a wise parent also doesn’t allow a toddler to do the thing the toddler was told not to do. In other words, the wise parent corrects a toddler’s actions, not a toddler’s outward display of inner rebellion.

What can you do when a toddler says no and does the forbidden thing? You take away the item (if there is an item) or you remove the child from the situation. At this age, it’s restrain and removal—those are the toddler’s parents’ go-to for effective discipline.

Slowing Down the Extracurricular Activity Freight Train

Q: I’m trying to put a slow down on the extracurricular activities by asking my kids to choose one or two. How much input should they be allowed in deciding which ones? For example, I think they need to be on the swim team this summer, but they are complaining about having to get up too early. I believe this is important because we spend several weeks at the ocean every summer and being strong swimmers to me is a safety thing. This seems like laziness rather than lack of interest.

On the other hand, my 12-year-old daughter wants to try out for a play that rehearses for several months and the actual show runs for three consecutive weekends, all of which I will be required to drive her to. I’m feeling guilty and selfish because I don’t want to do it. I know you’re not one to force kids to do extracurricular activities if they are not interested. Where do I draw the line?

A: This is a great question, one that we all struggle with as parents, especially because of how many activities with which our kids could be involved. You have a couple of questions here, so let me address the one about feeling guilty and selfish for not wanting to drive your tween to play practice first.

My favorite story from the book, Bringing Up BeBe, about an American raising kids in France is this one. The author asks one of her French friends about how the friend’s daughters’ tennis lessons are going. The Frenchwoman replies that they’ve quit the lessons. The author asks why, and the Frenchwoman says matter-of-factly: “Because it wasn’t working out for me.”

I love that quote because it sums up exactly what you’re saying—the tennis lessons, while possibly very worthwhile for those French girls, were not good for the mother. This Frenchwoman didn’t feel guilty or selfish for stopping something her girls enjoyed doing. She understood that sometimes, it’s better for a child to stop doing something for the sake of the mother (or family or father or siblings).

So if you’re going to be worn out with driving your tween to rehearsal and the performances will impact your family in any kind of negative way, then it’s perfectly fine for you to say no to this activity. Alternatively, you could say yes if the tween finds her own rides to rehearsals, with the understanding that you’ll attend one performance only.

Now, as to whether to make your kids be on the swim team. Yes, swimming is a vital life skill for kids to learn. Can they learn it apart from being on the swim team? Probably, as I imagine your pool offers lessons (or group lessons, which would be less expensive). If lessons aren’t feasible, you can sign them up and just inform them that they will be swimming this summer. We’ve not given our kids a say in whether or not they take piano lessons, even though they grumble at times about practicing.

Going forward, you can say they can do one activity per season or semester (September to December or January to May, for example). Or you can simply give a list of the activities for choosing, depending on the family’s and your schedule. Don’t be afraid to say no to any activities for a set length of time if you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed. That’s okay too.

The bottom line is that activities should fit in with the overall family’s life, not just cater to one child. Saying no because it doesn’t suit your schedule is perfectly reasonable. If more moms would take care to how activities, sports and other events impacted their well-being, I think the world would be a little bit calmer—I know most households would be!

A Peaceful Home

Note: On the fourth Tuesdays, I’m starting a new blog series on the Fruit of the Spirit, taking us through the nine character traits and applying that to raising kids.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)

We all want peace in our homes, but in the chaos that is our lives, we often neglect to do the very things that can bring peace into our homes. Why is peace such an illusive character trait? I believe it’s because at its heart, peace is about setting aside our own wants, desires and sensibilities. If we truly want to peace, it has to start in our own hearts. If we’re not practicing peace, then we can’t expect peace to dwell in our families and homes.

How do we become lovers of peace? By becoming active peacemakers. Here are seven ways to transform ourselves into peacemakers—and to see that peace spill over into our homes. When we’re calm and peaceful, it’s much easier for our spouses and children to be so too.

Value peace over being right. I confess, this one gets under my skin! It can be hard for me to let go of being right for the sake of peace. I’m not talking about compromising my values or going contrary to God’s word—I’m referring to all the minutiae of our daily lives, the stuff that really doesn’t matter in the big picture. When we can decide to let the other person “win,” then we can have a more peaceful heart and demeanor.

Be willing to “lose” more than you win. This goes hand-in-hand with valuing peace more than being right. When we’re not “in it to win it”—when every conversation doesn’t have to be about us coming out on top—we will bring more peace into our lives, and into the lives of everyone around us. With the world so focused on winning at all costs, it can be very freeing and, yes, peaceful, to let go of that burning need not to “lose.”

Apologize first. When saying “I’m sorry” is needed, be the first one to offer that sincere apology. Don’t wait for the other person to start the reconciliation process. You take the first step. Sure, it can be hard, especially when it’s a difficult situation and your feelings are hurt. But taking proactive steps like being willing to be the first to offer an apology is essential to being a peacemaker.

Overlook the little stuff. You know what I mean—those little annoyances, like leaving the cap off the toothpaste or not unloaded the dish drainer. Those little things that get under your skin faster than a tick in the spring. Look instead at those little drip, drip, drips as opportunities for you to bless the other person. Not by magnanimously “overlooking,” but by putting the cap on the toothpaste and unloading the dish drainer with an eye to be a blessing to someone else…even if that person never notices your act.

Answer anger with softness. As Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (ESV). When we reply to anger with peace, it dilutes the anger. It’s hard to be wrathful when the person with whom you’re angry is not answering in kind. Make it a practice to respond to anger with gentleness.

Disengage from conflict. Like fires, conflicts escalate when fueled by wind or fresh wood. When we can stop engaging in the conflict until all parties cool down, we can bring about a more peaceful resolution. This is especially true in the parent-child relationship, where it’s the wiser, older parent who has more power, and thus to disengage from a budding conflict often douses the conflict.

Practice reconciliation. While this is a larger topic than can be covered in a blog post, here are some general guidelines for reconciliation: acknowledge the hurt, stress compromise, use questions to understand the other’s point of view, and come up with a solution agreed to by both parties.

Being committed to peace can be hard, especially in today’s collective me-first attitude. But it’s well-worth the effort to do our part to give our homes a more peaceful setting. For more information, I highly recommend The Peacemaker by Ken Sande and The Young Peacemaker for kids.

The Question of Spanking

Q: When is spanking appropriate with a 3 year old?

A: When my second child (a daughter) was around 3, we began punishing her for disobedience. As with her older sister, spanking was in our discipline toolbox. However, unlike our eldest child, this daughter was made of sterner stuff—more stubborn and willful. This was the child who, when told not to do something, would march over, do the forbidden thing, then march herself down the hall to the “spanking place” to await her punishment. With such a child, spanking wasn’t going to have the desired effect of determent and conscience-building, so we quickly tossed spanking out of her consequence toolbox and inserted other, more memorable and effective punishments.

Why did I tell you that story? To illustrate why I can’t answer your question with a one-size-fits-all reply. When is spanking appropriate for a 3 year old? The answer depends on the preschooler in question.

So, if you don’t mind, I’ll answer the question I wish you had asked—what is the purpose of [insert punishment method here]? When you can answer that question, you’ll have the answer to your specific question.

The purpose of punishment is twofold: To make a child feel bad about the misbehavior (not about himself, but about what he did) and to develop a child’s internal motivation in order to stop a child from misbehaving in the future. Augustine had a great thought on this: “A conscience cannot be healed if not wounded.” In other words, as a determent for future misbehaviors and as a way to develop a child’s conscience and sense of right and wrong. For more on this, watch my video on “Consequences and Kids.”

Finally, a caution: Be careful that you don’t use spanking or other consequences to bring about an external change only in a child. Just because a child doesn’t outwardly seem to care about getting spanked or sent to her room doesn’t mean the punishment isn’t working. All too often, parents sometimes get carried away and want a child to show with her demeanor that she gets why what she did was wrong, and that doesn’t always happen immediately. Sometimes, the punishment takes a while to work on a child’s heart. Sometimes, a parent needs to figure out a different way to reach the child’s heart. That is one of the biggest dangers of spanking—if a child acts as if spanking doesn’t matter, a parent can be tempted to spank harder or longer to bring about that outward change or remorse. And that’s not healthy for the parent or the child.

May Parenting Thought of the Month: Stress-Free Transitions

Need some practical ways to help your child switch gears between home and school, home and leaving, library and home, etc.?

First, it’s important to first understand how kids view change. In a word—they hate it. Children thrive on routine and knowing what to expect. It’s not that they can’t change—it’s just that they’d rather not, thank you very much. As adults, we’ve gotten used to change—we know we have to expect it, that we have to roll with the unexpected. We carry on little dialogues in our head that help us through change but a child hasn’t developed that internal dialogue yet, so that makes change even more difficult at times.

Second, establishing regular routines help a child feel safe, secure and loved. So if you haven’t taken the time to work on a daily routine with your kids, make that a priority. I think you’ll find transitions easier if kids know what to expect on a regular basis.

But we can’t always stick to the same routine every day because of a little thing called life. By giving kids the tools they need to manage the anxiety that comes with change, to stop apocalyptic thinking and keep their eyes on the positive, they will be happier and less stressed.

Here are 10 ways you can assist your children in adjusting to change—whether it’s a small one, like stopping by the store on the way home from preschool, or a major one, like moving to a new home.

Know how your child handles change. Some kids are more flexible when it comes to change, while others act like if we’ve done it this way once, it’s set in stone. One of my daughters prefers things to stay the same, and even at 13, I strive to not spring trips or visits on her at the last minute. We live in a fluid world, and sometimes we need to go with the flow, so to speak. A trip to the store takes twice as long as anticipated and now your child has to miss his favorite TV show. Or someone gets sick so planned trip to see grandmother has be postponed. By expressing that you, too, are sad about the change in plans can help your child handle it.

Be calm yourself. When we are frazzled, our kids pick up on that and sometimes can be as stressed as we are. Figure out how you can approach life with more calmness and less chaos, and you’ll find that transitions go a little bit smoother.

Think about what hampers your child from handling transitions easily. Is it around nap time? Meal time? Is it after school or before a soccer game? Discovering what might contribute to fussiness about changes will help you counter those and not be surprised when the balking starts.

Let him express his feelings—up to a point. A child should have more leeway when the change is a big one than when it’s a small one. By allowing him to say he’s sad or cry when disappointed can be a good thing, as long as we don’t then fuss too much over his feelings. A child, even a young one, needs to learn how to control his emotions. I’m not saying that he won’t have them or has to keep them bottled up, but rather it’s part of our job as parents to help him master his emotions—or they will control him.

Don’t over-schedule yourself or your child. Too much of the time, we try to pack too much into too short a time. We sign up our children for too many activities and sports, leaving precious little down time and time for play and being at home. Sometimes we create our own stressful transitions by packing too much into our days or weeks. Make sure you have regular intervals of time for your children to be at home without anything on the agenda but play and fun.

Give a 5- or 10-minute warning. This allows the child to begin to mentally prepare. I know when I’m caught off guard and need to leave right this instance, it throws me off, so I usually tell my kids, “In 10 minutes, we’re leaving for the library.”

Get yourself ready first. This seems too simple to have much impact, but if you’re not rushing around gathering things together, then you’ll be much calmer when readying a recalcitrant child. Have a staging area near the door that you can put all the things you need to take to the car, and have a place for your child’s things, too.

Outline the steps. For younger kids, give only one or two verbal steps at a time—more than that and the child won’t be able to remember. Use the Short and Sweet principle. For example, don’t say, “We’re going to the library for story time and to check out books. You want to get that dinosaur one, right? So you need to get on your shoes, go to the bathroom and get on your coat.” Way too long for a preschooler and most kids, frankly. Instead say, “Get on your shoes right now.” After that has been accomplished, tell him the next step. As your kids get older, you’ll only have to inform them where you’re going for them to know what they need. But be available for questions that might come up.

Set a timer. For young children, the concept of time has yet to become concrete. They have no idea how long things take or how long they’ve been “getting dressed.” A simple kitchen timer can be of enormous assistance in getting kids ready. I used one frequently for my kindergartners, who loved to race the clock. The timer keeps the child’s focus on the task at hand in a quest to beat time itself. So remember that the timer is your friend!

Build in extra time. Figure out how long it will take to get to where you need to be when you need to get there—and then add an extra 5 or 10 minutes. That way, when your son can’t find his shoe or your daughter decides today is the day to make mud pies, you’ll still have time to deal with the crisis and still be on time. There’s nothing more stressful than running late, so adding an extra cushion of time can help make you calmer and thus your children.

These steps should help you get out the door and home again. You can easily apply them to larger transitions, such as school to summer or summer to school as well.

Who Should Set a Teen’s Bedtime?

Q: Is it unreasonable to tell a 16-year-old boy he should have lights out by 10 p.m.? He works hard on school, despite not liking it, but often stays up until 1 or 2 a.m. doing homework or reading. He has plenty of time in late afternoon, evenings and weekends to do it, but has created this odd schedule for himself.

Now he is also doing part-time work, about 7-10 hours per week, and his (very kind) boss has commented about him being crabby. He wants to go on a weekend retreat with our church that always wears out the kids by Sunday evening, so we told him to adhere to this bedtime before we decide if he may go. He is NOT happy with this, ripped up his retreat registration form and is generally hostile about the whole idea.

A: The short answer to your question? It’s not unreasonable, but it might not be enforceable.

Of course he’s hostile—he doesn’t want to be told when to go to bed as if he’s a toddler and not a teenager. The fact of the matter is, even if he complied with lights out at 10 p.m. each evening, that doesn’t mean he would actually get more sleep. You can lead a kid to bed, but you can’t make him sleep, no matter the age.

That doesn’t mean you can’t set guidelines for him to follow that could help him go to bed earlier. For example, he must turn in his electronics by 9 p.m. each evening (central place for charging personal devices, laptops/PCs/tablets shut down, etc.). The TV goes off at a set time as well. The kitchen closes at 9:30 p.m. each evening (no midnight snacks, etc.). Those general restrictions should assist with homework not being done late, since so much of it is done online in high school.

As for his boss saying he’s “crabby,” well, that’s up to his boss to address if son’s attitude is getting in the way of his serving customers. So I’d leave the crabby comment in the workplace arena and allow his boss to take action if necessary. That’s a natural consequence that your son can solve if he wants to—and better coming from an adult with authority over your son than your trying to solve the problem for him with an earlier bedtime.

For the church retreat, even if your son goes to bed at 10 p.m., there’s no guarantee he’ll return from the retreat well rested. He will be tired and out of sorts after the retreat no matter what. Sometimes, teens need to find their own sleep limits before they’ll value sleep. I know my two teenage daughters know when they need to go bed because they’ve had to deal with the consequences of not getting enough sleep. Often, they will put themselves to bed earlier than usual because they’ve realized they need a little more rest ahead of a big test or after a sleepover, for example.

Overall, having in place home policies, like for electronic devices, is better than micromanaging a bedtime for a teenager. Model good sleeping habits yourself, discuss why sleep is important and let natural consequences happen when he doesn’t get enough sleep. I wrote a piece for the Washington Post on “Why you need to pay attention to your older kids’ sleeping habits” that has more info on this topic.

Incorporating Joy Into Your Parenting

Note: On the fourth Tuesdays, I’m starting a new blog series on the Fruit of the Spirit, taking us through the nine character traits and applying that to raising kids.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)

A few years ago, Jennifer Senior’s book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting, attempted “to look at the experience of parenthood systematically, piece by piece, stage by stage, in order to articulate—and in some cases quantify—what today’s parents find so challenging about their lives.” Her premise is built on the fact that many parents today have little joy or happiness in parenting because we’re so worried and concerned about our kids.

One of my goals as a parent coach is to help parents recover their joy in raising kids. I’m not talking about some Pollyanna-esque mental state of constant, relentless joy, but the quiet, inner joy that radiates from your heart at the sight of your children. That delight we have in our children’s happiness—not in our making them happy, but in their expressing their happiness. This isn’t about how we can make others happy, as that’s a losing proposition from the get-go. This is about rediscovering your own joy in the midst of the sometimes frustration, sometimes hard, sometimes trying, sometimes difficult path along the parenting journey.

How can we have joy in the messiness of raising kids? Here’s how I experience joy, even when I feel like crying or screaming, in my parenting.

Enjoy the moment. When I’m really paying attention to my kids, and not giving them the once-over as I dash by to complete the next item on my to-do list, I can experience joy in their own joy. Seeing a son’s face light up as he talks to his brother about something that happened in a book he’s reading makes my heart light. Hearing my two teenage daughters laughing over a K-pop video brings a smile to my lips. Watching my husband tell an awful pun at dinner that makes everyone groan, then laugh, warms my inner core.

Remember each day is brand-new. One of my favorite quotes from Anne of Green Gables is “Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it.” Let’s make a pact to not over our anger or hurt into the next day. Let’s start each day with the idea that we can do better, our children can do better, and that we can find joy in the day’s tasks, activities and challenges.

Let go more than hang on. When we parent with open hands, not holding onto our—or our child’s—regrets, mistakes or missteps, our hearts will be lighter, our responses more positive, and our outlook rosier. That’s not to say we forget about the past, but it does mean we try not to bring up things that have been resolved, and we don’t measure the future by the past or present.

Ditch perfection and settle for okay. Don’t chase after having the perfect house, raising the perfect kid or being the perfect mother. Be okay with average. Embrace being “good enough.” When we do our best but don’t sweat perfection, we breathe easier and relax more—excellent ways to allow joy to bubble to the surface of our lives.

Smile or laugh every day. Kids are funny, and raising them can be even funnier. When you have those moments where you want to laugh or cry, choose laughter. Not at your kids, but with your kids. A smile will soften any hurt. A shared laugh will knit you closer together. So smile more, laugh more and your heart will feel more joyful.

These are just some of the ways that I find to bring joy into my parenting and my life. Whenever stress, challenges, discouragement or frustration beats down my joy, it’s usually because I’ve let these five simple things slide. If you haven’t been doing any of these things and want to have more joy in your life, then pick just one to start with—you’ll be amazed at what difference a small change can make.

Until next time,

Sarah

A Boy’s Early Curiosity Alarms Parents

Q: When my son was 5, he tried to search for “girl’s pee pee” and other related terms on his tablet, which luckily was on the child setting. We talked to him the best we could even though he denied it happened. We put extra tight restrictions on his already very limited tablet use. When he was 7, we discovered that he tried searching for much more explicit content (sex, sex with kids) on my husband’s computer, knowing he’s not allowed to use the Internet without an adult around. He was swiftly and severely punished for breaking that rule.

I was an utter mess about what he may have seen, and why and even how my little boy was so interested in this topic. I probably did too much talking, and he said nothing but “I know” in response. We are always reminding him that he can come to me or his dad with questions. But, he doesn’t ask us questions or come to us ever. And he is smart and sneaky about getting what he wants.

We bought an age-appropriate book about boys growing up/body changes, and my husband read it to him and our 10-year-old son (who has never been found to be involved in anything related to this.) Now, at age 8, I saw that my son wrote the word “sex” all over our shower door, while showering. He mostly plays with one other 8-year-old boy in our neighborhood, and sometimes is around other 10- to 11-year-olds, with his brother. Our boys have very limited screen time and no Internet access on their tablets, and only use it in a shared room with permission. He has no history of abuse. I’m sure the kids “talk” on the school bus, and it’s a curious topic for boys, but being that it started so young and he already has some graphic thoughts in his head, I’m worried about where it came from and how to stay ahead of things from here on out. Should I be worried?

A: I don’t mean to alarm you, but yes, you should be worried. You say “he has no history of abuse,” but I’m not sure that’s true. It’s rare that a 5-year-old would search out something like that on his own initiative. My initial, gut reaction is that someone older than him—a boy on the bus, a teenager or an adult—said something or showed him something that triggered that search.

If you’re absolutely, positively sure that he’s had no unsupervised time with an adult man (even a family member other than your husband), then my guess is that he’s viewed pornography. Either he stumbled upon it on his own or someone showed him something at school or the neighborhood. Even at his tender age, the fact remains that pornography is frighteningly easy to come into contact with—even without meaning to. Kids as young as your son who have seen pornography often don’t realize exactly what they saw, and that sparks curiosity, confusion and shame (hence, his not wanting to talk to you about the incident or incidents).

As you’ve seen, your son will deny viewing whatever it is he saw. He’s 8 years old—he barely knows what it is he’s seen, but he’s curious or intrigued. He’s been leaving you clues—sex written on the shower door, searching for “sex” on the computer he’s not supposed to touch—so act on those clues now. And by act, I don’t mean further punishment for your son.

What to do going forward? Eliminate all electronic device usage—no tablets, no computer time, no video games—for both boys. Just stop cold turkey. Lock up your own devices to help him avoid temptation.

Wait a few weeks before broaching the subject again. During that time, rebuild your connection with your son. So often our kids don’t want to share things with us because we’ve let the connection with them dissolve or fray. Spend time with him without bugging him about this topic, etc.

You will need to talk with him again, but do more listening than talking. Maybe your husband could take the lead and talk about his own foibles into sex (crushes on girls, other boys who talked about sex, etc.). Nothing graphic, but sharing more how hard it is to say no or “un-see” something. He shouldn’t push your son to share, but a series of conversations will likely get your son to open up about what he saw or someone showed him, etc.

Finally, if, after reading this answer and reflecting on the past few years, you have doubts about whether your son has been abused or could have been in a situation where abuse could have occurred, then please, please, please act immediately. There are professionals out there—medical, psychological/counselors, law enforcement—who will help, who are trained to assist and protect kids in these situations.

3 Ways to Hook Your Kids on Devotions

By JP Robinson

Last week, I told my kids that I’d have to cancel our devotions that evening because a family activity had run later than expected. Their response was typical: a resounding chorus of “oh no’s! and something on the lines of “Pleasssse, can we have devotions tonight?”

I call this response typical, and it is…for us. Perhaps it’s not typical in most homes but I’m blessed to have kids who literally beg me for devotions. This post identifies three ways to help you get my kind of problem—kids who are disappointed when devotions are cancelled!

  1. Show your kids that God is the Best. Thing. Ever.
    Devotions don’t begin when you gather your family together. They are an ongoing expression of commitment to God. Getting your kids “hooked” on Jesus, is something that every parent needs to do 24/7. If we limit our dedication to Jesus to 15 minutes a night, then we send a message to our kids/tweens/teens that God is not the center of our lives.

Remember: your kids won’t buy into devotions if you’re not showing them that you’re “devoted” to God. I love the word devotion. It entails commitment, love and sacrifice. When we show our children that God doesn’t revolve around our lives, but our lives revolve around God, we’re setting the stage to hook their interest in time spent in the Bible.

Think: How can we expect our kids to be excited about God if we parents are too busy to go to midweek service or too tired to read our Bibles every day?

  1. Get creative. No, you don’t need to spend money or do acrobatics in the living room. What I mean is, don’t limit the format of your devotions to simply talking about Scripture.

Remember: Kids of all ages learn best when they’re doing or seeing things. Classic example: I was trying to teach my kids how just a little sin can contaminate their spiritual health. A few drops of purple food coloring in a cup of water produced a lesson that even my youngest remembered weeks later.

Think: You’re competing with school, friends and social media for your child’s time and attention. To be effective, devotions need to be engaging and—to a certain extent—fun.

Try dramatizing a Biblical lesson (no costume needed) or enhancing a biblical discussion with a short movie clip. If all else fails, a quick Google search on “Devotion ideas for busy families” produces almost 4 million results.

  1. Let the kids run the show. This is perhaps the most effective strategy of the three. Too often, parents feel that devotions mean that they talk while the kids sit and absorb the information. As a high school teacher, I can tell you that engaged kids are the ones who really learn.

Remember: If you feel guidelines are necessary, that’s fine! Just keep it loose so they’re free to express their creativity. Not only does this take some pressure off of you, but it also engages your children from the onset.

Think: No matter how old your children, assign them each a devotion night. Let them take ownership and run the show their way.

I hope that these tips place your family on the road to power-packed devotions. Keep up the good work and God bless your efforts to nurture another Christ-loving generation.

About JP Robinson
JP Robinson began writing as a teen for the Times Beacon Records newspaper in New York. He holds a degree in English and is a teacher of French history. JP is known for creating vivid, high-adrenaline plots laced with unexpected twists. Born to praying parents who were told by medical doctors that having children was impossible, JP Robinson’s writes to ignite faith in a living God.

Teaching Kindness

Q: How can I teach my 10-year-old daughter to have a kind heart? Her 7-year-old sister is always doing sweet things for her without prompting, and she sees it modeled between her dad and I doing selfless things for each other. We are just out of ideas to get her to think of others without being told.

A: I love that you’re asking this question because it’s important for us to teach our kids how to be kind and generous, tenderhearted toward one another, whether siblings or friends or classmates. As you’ve noticed yourself, some kids are born with a more generous, outgoing personality that spills over into little acts of kindness. This is how your 7 year old is (Younger), and that’s a wonderful thing.

However, I’m wondering if your 10 year old (Older) senses that you approve of her younger sister’s actions more than you do of her. In your question, you’re comparing the two—Younger is “always doing sweet things” while Older is not. I suspect that you’re probably either commenting about that in Older’s hearing or using nonverbal cues (smiles/fawning over Younger’s “sweet things,” while subtly judging Older for not doing spontaneous acts of kindness).

So first, please check your own heart and actions to ensure you’re not judging your girls the same. It also sounds like you and your husband are naturally good at these types of expressions, which can color how you look at Older and her seeming lack of kindnesses.

Second, remember that your children are different and have different personalities that express themselves in different ways. I encourage you to write down five things you see Older excel at and struggle with, then do the same for Younger. It’s important to realize Older has her own strengths and weaknesses just like Younger does. You might find that Older has other ways she shows kindnesses or a helpful spirit that you haven’t really noticed because it’s not as visible as Younger’s “sweet things.”

Now for teaching kindness, focus on both tangible and intangible expressions. For tangible, it can be helping kids to notice opportunities to be kind, such as picking up toys without being asked, volunteering to help with a chore or task, or helping to pick up something someone spilled or dropped. For intangible, it can be talking to the new kid during lunch, making sure to include everyone in the game at recess and being aware when someone’s upset and trying to comfort them.

Books help too, like Horton Hears a Who, The Invisible Boy, many of the Berenstain Bears books, The Giving Tree, and Anne of Green Gables. Reading and discussing characters who are kind and ones who aren’t can assist children in learning what kindness looks like and how to be kind themselves.

One thing we’ve done from time to time is ask each family member questions at dinner that touch on little kindnesses throughout the day, like

  • What did you do today that made you smile?
  • What did you do today that was kind to someone else?

Overall, it’s more about focusing on building character in both of your girls than in teaching only Older to be kind.