Attitude expectations

Have you ever received a compliment or word of encouragement that you really don’t feel like you deserve? I have.

“You are so good at…..”  Eeek!

Or “You really knows how to …..” Do I??!!

But I have noticed something very interesting about these kind of comments. They make me try to live up to their expectations. Think about it. If someone praises the way you solve problems peacefully, even if you honestly don’t think you are so good at it, you’ll more than likely make an extra effort to be peaceful next time a problem crops up. You see, you want to live up to that good expectation.

Having someone expect good things of you is nice. Sometimes a little daunting, but nice. Someone else’s confidence in your ability somehow bolsters your own confidence, and in turn this inspires you to try; you aim to do your best to deserve the praise already given. And I think this is a principle we need to apply to parenting.

Moment by moment we are shaping the attitudes our children will hold for years to come.

Moment by moment we are shaping the attitudes our children will hold for years to come.

I want to make clear that I am not talking about setting the kind of expectations which put negative pressure and stress onto a child. I don’t think we should say, “I expect you to win that race.” This can result in a fear-based effort. Not only that, but it is unfair – your child simply may not be the fastest runner in the race. We should not set expectations based on our children’s performance; we should set expectations about their attitude and character choices. Verbalizing your anticipation of your child’s best effort to win the race will spur them on with joy rather than fear.  And your praise at the end, no matter where they finish, will bring about positive results.

"We are raising the next generation"

“We are raising the next generation of this world”

Children are perceptive little people. They observe and absorb much more than we realise. And I’ve noticed that as adults we are almost constantly giving off impressions of the expectations we have of our children, perhaps unaware that they are soaking up and internalising these messages.

You can see it in all kinds of places. In the t-shirts we buy our toddlers: “I’m the boss”, “I’m a little monster”, “Mischief maker”. In the TV shows which model “normal” teenage behavior: arrogant, more concerned about appearance than character, self-absorbed. In the tone of voice and choice of words with which we communicate to them: “You’re so naughty! You never listen to me.” Or the way we talk to others about them, “He’s such a nightmare. He really knows how to wind me up.” All of these set negative expectations, and they tend to result in one of two scenarios: a child who lives up to these poor expectations and becomes the “nightmare” he is called; or a child who strives to please but deep down is broken and depressed.

We need to think more carefully. We are raising the next generation of this world. If we want them to be kind, compassionate, healthy, competent and respectful adults then we need to set those expectations now, while they are children. Why do we think we can call them “a little monster” yet expect them to behave well? We need to set them good standards which they delight in reaching, by highlighting the good they are capable of achieving. We need to find things to praise them for – not to build pride, but to remind them that everyone is valuable no matter what. I can tell you from first-hand experience: commenting on the good your child has done – no matter how small – inspires them to achieve more.

In the book of James chapter 3 we are told that the tongue has the power to set the course of a life – for good or for bad. Let us use that power to set our children on the course for greatness. In Titus 2:7 Paul says “In everything set them an example by doing what is good.Let us use every moment to model high standards. And when we talk to or about our children, let us keep every conversation “full of grace” (Col. 4:6), that they may be inspired to become the best version of themselves they can possibly be.

And above all, let our unconditional love flow through our words and actions.

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Comparison vs. Inspiration

One of the biggest killers of joy in parenthood is the feeling of failure. And one of the biggest causes of this feeling comes from that deadly enemy – comparison.

You know how it is. You go to Jenny’s house for a play date, and get talking. She tells you about how she gets her five children dressed by 7:30 am every day, then they all sit down and have an hour-long Bible study looking up original texts and reading the Greek together. By the time you leave, you are feeling like a complete failure – and you’re not too sure you want to visit Jenny again any time soon.

Looking for inspiration

Search for the inspiration in every situation.

But here is what I want to tell you: God doesn’t want you to take a guilt trip. I’m convinced that people like Jenny are placed in your life to inspire you, not drive you to unhealthy comparisons that leave you helpless and dejected.

In Proverbs 31 we read about that amazing woman – the wife of noble character. Note how it opens by saying “who can find” such a woman. She is rare. It’s quite likely that you, the reader, are not such a model of Godliness as she is – but read on anyway. Why? Not to make you feel like a failure, but so that you can be inspired by what is good, noble and right.

Here are some definitions of being inspired:

  • To be filled with enlivening or exalting emotion
  • To be stimulated to action; motivated
  • To be affected or touched
  • To have something drawn forth; to have something elicited or aroused
  • To have energies or ideals stimulated

Imagine if you left Jenny’s house feeling this way, instead of allowing yourself to feel beaten up by comparison. What a blessing that visit would have been to you – and Jenny too.

Being inspired does not mean that you then have to go home and start your own Greek studies – though this might be just what you want to do. Rather, it means that you see how great it is that Jenny has found a way to bring God into her home that works for her, and you are eager to find something that works for your family, too.

It took me a long time to realise that Bible study with my children did not have to be the same format every day. Now, that might sound obvious to you, but to me it was a revelation!  If you’ve read my post on the phase-eeze you’ll know that I have trouble sticking with something very long-term, but prefer to go through phases of intense focus on one topic at  a time. Whilst I think this tendency needs to be balanced with dedication, I also know that in some way it is a deep part of me, and I must learn to work with it. So the realisation that we could do a different type of Bible study each day was a dream come to true to me! We now have a rota of different study types for each day of the week, and for the first time I’ve found it easy – and JOYFUL – to stick to!

For you, this might look quite different. Maybe you’re an art buff – bring drawing into your Bible time. Maybe you’re a history nut – excite your children with the historical accuracy of the Bible. Maybe you just can’t get up in the morning, but manage to get everyone in one place at bed time – read then! What it looks like in my family is not what it has to look like in yours. It’s okay to “do it your way”! So long as you are seeking the Lord in every choice, you really can’t go wrong.

So next time you are tempted to compare your efforts with someone else, decide instead to look for inspiration.

Grace vs discipline? It’s not a dichotomy!

“For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Ephesians 2:8-9

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”
Ephesians 6:1

I have been blessed to observe many wonderful examples of parenting amongst my friends and family. I am always seeking to learn how to become a better parent myself. When I see children who are full of love for God and others I look carefully at how they have been parented, hoping to find some wisdom I can apply in my own family. There is nothing so important as the job of a parent, and we only get one shot at it. I desperately want to get it right!

It is a combination of my own experiences, observations of others and study of the Bible that has lead me to believe that grace-based parenting and parenting with discipline are two pivotal parts of the parenting puzzle. I believe they must work together, and that when they do the result is beautiful to behold. Yet so often grace and discipline are seen as opposing perspectives – an either/or choice. My experience is that to show grace without discipline leads to stress, strife, and sadness. To insist on discipline without grace leads to fear, shallow faith, and distant family relationships. The most successful parents I know apply both of these principles, balanced in just the right way – and their children are a delight and an inspiration. Let’s look at these two aspects in a little more detail.

So blessed I get to parent these two precious kids.

So blessed I get to parent these two precious kids.

It is abundantly clear in the Bible that we are saved by grace, and that NO amount of good behaviour or Godly virtues can get us to heaven. It is essential that we teach this to our children. We need to model grace in our daily interactions with them, and we need to show them that we, too, are in constant need of grace. Our children should know in their innermost being that they are part of a messed up humanity, AND that they are loved beyond imagination by a God who wants to freely offer them salvation. This truth is vital. We need to talk about it and live it out openly at every opportunity. It is foundational.

Secondly, we need to parent with strict discipline. I include the word ‘strict’ here because I think most parents discipline to some degree. The type of discipline I’m talking about here is the kind that requires obedience and respect. This is where I begin to hear some dissent. Within the Christian parenting circle we talk a lot about grace. It is generally agreed that grace, unconditional love and forgiveness are central parts of parenting. But when discipline comes into the conversation many people begin to look wary. It’s not that parents don’t want their children to be obedient – but many seem to be afraid of enforcing it. They appear to feel that being strict is at odds with offering grace. But if we look at the Bible, I think this idea is unfounded.

The Bible  shows us two very clear aspects of who God the Father is, and how he relates to us as his children. Firstly, he is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” (Psalm 103:8.) Yet at the same time we are told – no, warned – that “it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31.) Also, that “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (Hebrews 12:6) We can see here that despite our free access to God’s grace, he also disciplines his children and is not afraid to punish those who reject him. That seems very much like a balance between grace-based parenting and parenting with strict discipline.

Proverbs 13:24 is pretty straight forward on the topic of parental discipline: “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” This verse tells us that avoiding discipline equates to hating our children. Yikes. In fact, if you really love your child (and most people say they do), then you will prove this by being careful to discipline “diligently”, or “promptly”, as the NASB and NKJV put it. Why? Because living according to God’s principles will bless your child, their family, their friends, their neighbours, their country, and the world. Hebrews 12:11 sums it up perfectly: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

So YES – it is by grace, not works, that we are saved. This is the foundation we absolutely need to teach our children to live upon.  But let’s not allow that wonderful truth to prevent us from disciplining our children – for their own good.

Listen – kids are people too

One of the blessings of having a good memory is remembering what it was like to be a kid. I had a great childhood, really – full of love, fun, and Little House on the Prairie with my bestie.

But I also remember some of the frustrations. Most clearly, I remember being frustrated when adults assumed they knew what I had done/was going to say/felt.  I can’t remember any specific instances, but I do remember the feeling of not being heard.  And as I grew up I was determined that my own children should not have this same frustration.

As a mom now, I find this is easier said than done. It is so easy to assume I know what’s going on in my children’s minds; to assume that I know the whole story behind a disagreement between siblings; to assume I know how it feels and the reason why my child is crying when I say ‘no’ to something. But the truth is, I don’t know everything. And so, I make an effort to listen to my children’s explanations and points of view, and I try hard to avoid making assumptions. I don’t do this perfectly, sadly. But I have a story which illustrates so clearly why I am glad I try, and how blessings abound when I succeed.

A couple of years ago Prince and Princess where playing in the lounge. Prince had left some of his toys unused on the table. After a while Princess, sitting on the floor in the middle of a game, needed an extra character, and seeing the unused toys on the table and asked,

“Prince – can I have your penguin?”

Prince look at her uneasily. I pricked up my ears to listen in, wondering if he would take this opportunity to be generous (something he had been struggling with a lot recently).

“Well…” he said, “That’s a very special toy to me. Couldn’t you have one of these instead?” Prince offered her two or three other toys.

I was disappointed. I felt angry, even. He just couldn’t seem to shake this selfishness – he wasn’t even using the toy! But instead of demanding he give her the toy and lecturing him on being kind (which is what I felt like doing), I stopped and thought about how to act. I then asked him a question.

“Prince – why don’t you want Princess to have the penguin? You’re not using it.” I said this simply, not accusationally. I genuinely wanted to know why he wasn’t giving her the penguin. What was stopping him?

Prince looked up at me, slightly teary-eyed. “Well – it’s very special to me. It’s one of my first big-eyed-toys! But…” He hesitated, as if needing my help, “does she want to have it forever?”

Prince and his penguin in their early days.

Prince and his ‘big-eyed’ penguin in their early days.

Suddenly it dawned on me. My prince – my precious, darling, oh-so-literal Prince – heard his sister ask to ‘have’ the toy, and assumed she meant ‘have to keep forever as her own’.

“No, darling,” I explained, “She just wants to use it for this game!”

Prince looked relieved. “Oh!  Okay!” He passed her the penguin immediately.

I was convicted of my anger. Here I was assuming Prince was being selfish, when in actual fact he was being extremely generous. Remember – he chose some of his other own toys to give his sister ‘forever’, as he understood it. I’m so grateful that I chose to ask him to explain his own perspective on the situation. It blessed me, as I saw his generous heart; and it blessed him, as he was not unfairly accused of selfishness.

I think back on this situation often, and use it to remember that kids are people too. They deserve the respect of being listened to and heard. Their understanding, opinions and explanations are not always what we think they will be.

Let’s stop assuming we know it all, and take time to really listen to our children.

The window to your heart

“And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites. And the tongue is a fire.”
James 3:4-6

Words. Many lessons have been written on the power of words. The tongue has been called the strongest muscle in the body, and the Bible speaks of its power in the book of James, likening it to a rudder which can steer the whole course of a ship, or a fire which can cause devastation.

wordsAs a homeschooling Mama my kids hear a lot of my words! We talk about everything from history, to meals, to Lego, to toilet habits… I’ll stop there 😉  Being with my kids more than your average UK parent has made me think carefully about how I speak to them. I have noticed that it is easy to slip into the ‘I’m busy but I’ll nod and say “uh-huh” even though I have no idea what you said’ mode of conversation.  There are plenty of comic strips and Facebook images which joke about this. It seems to be a universal Mom thing. But it’s not funny. Now I know that you and I are busy people. But what do our conversations tell our children about our hearts… and their value?

When we speak to our children, we are showing them a little of our heart. Our words are a window. Not just our words, in fact, but our tone of voice, eye-contact, expression, and all those other non-verbal communication attributes. If I am staring at my computer and say the glazed “uh-huh” when Prince comes to tell me about how the latest GUP is the coolest thing, what are my words and actions telling him?Here’s a list off the top of my head:

  • I am selfish
  • I value other interests above him
  • I have no self-control
  • His effort is unimportant
  • He is not interesting to me
  • He is not high on my priority list
  • Computers are a god
  • It’s okay to ignore people

These are pretty shocking messages. Even more scary is the fact that even if I was doing something REALLY important, he is still getting these messages. As I see it, if I don’t want him to get these messages I have two options: 1) Put him first whenever possible: Stop, look at him, smile, appreciate, ask more questions (rather than hoping he hurries up and finishes talking), hug him, praise him. OR 2) if what I am doing is pressing and important: Stop, look at him, explain “I’d love to hear what you’re saying, but I’m just in the middle of something urgent. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can, and you can tell me all about it, OK?” Now he knows that he is valued highly, but sometimes other issues need to take priority for a time. (Side note: we should balance this advice with make sure our children learn the importance of not interrupting, that they are not the only thing in the world which matters, etc. But in my experience this is a far less common problem, and what most of us really need to work on is giving the message of love and value.)

The busy mom syndrome is just one example of the way we talk to our children, but here are some other messages that our words & non-verbal signals may be telling our children:

  • I don’t like you
  • I’m impatient
  • I value obedience more than a right heart
  • I am inconsistent
  • You are stupid
  • You are insignificant
  • You should be perfect
  • My desires are more important that yours
  • You don’t deserve love
  • Anger can be expressed without love
  • What you do is not important
  • It’s okay to be rude
  • Self should be valued above others
I want to be my kids' best friend!

I want to be my kids’ best friend!

Again, a shocking list. And again, it’s even more scary when you stop to think that it’s not just the ‘bad’ parents out there giving these kind of messages. It’s us. We need to stop and take a good look at what we say and how we say it when we talk to anyone – but especially our children. We must not assume “they know that I love them”, but rather SHOW this in the way we talk. We must let our kids know that we respect, like, love, and appreciate them. How many kids would choose to be friends with someone who preferred the company of Facebook over them, who lost their temper with them on a daily basis, who expected them to be perfect and never thanked them for a job well done? I sure want to be my children’s best friend. And one step to this I believe is learning to speak to them in love all day long, as a friend, mentor and mother.

Our words are a window into our hearts that our children look through each day. Sometimes this window may not reflect accurately what is inside, but it is still what our children see. And sometimes this window is more accurate than we like to admit.

Guest Post: Avoiding Frustration

Heading Things Off At The Pass
Or…
Ways to help avoid frustration in our children

  1. Pray for your children to have peace, contentment, flexibility, generosity & calm.  That’s a big ask but God is a big God… and it is important for us to do the asking on our children’s behalf.
  2. Emphasise foundational concepts regularly.
  3. Help your children learn perspective by pointing out regularly what is (and isn’t) of first (i.e. eternal) importance.
  4. Set clear, realistic expectations AND make sure they have been heard & understood.  My personal favourite – calling gaily from the kitchen whilst making supper (with the extractor fan on) into the lounge (where someone is playing the piano) that supper is nearly ready and someone must please set the table – is NOT what we are looking for!

    Conquer the entangling web of frustration!

    Conquer the entangling web of frustration!

  5. Give a warning before you want your children to change what they are doing.  E.g. when they are about to need to tidy up/go out/come for a meal/come inside/stop playing. My children are more often happier with having to stop playing if they can finish a ‘last chapter’ of their game; it lets them get to a suitable stopping point, which is more satisfying than stopping in the middle of an exciting bit.
  6. Early Intervention Plan.  Distract your child from potential/early frustration & come up with alternative courses of action.
    – E.g. If a child is looking lost for something to do/someone to play with, offer them a menu of options to choose from including, if at all possible, some things with you.
    – E.g. If a sibling has done something a child did not want/like, suggest ways the child can be gracious to their sibling – and make that sound like an appealing thing to do so they can be just like Jesus – then offer the aforementioned menu of options for things to do (possibly including doing something nice for the sibling)
  7. Ask YOUR CHILDREN to tell YOU what the right thing to do/say is.  This is a ‘double scoop ice-cream’ type approach:
    Scoop one: you can avoid them getting frustrated with being corrected/told what to do.  This is especially helpful if a) you are a long-winded communicator, like me and/or b) they are a child that needs frequent guidance…some children do.
    Scoop two: you are training them in the discipline of making right choices themselves. Obviously, if they are floundering, help them out – otherwise you start off a new cause for frustration, which is not quite the idea!!
  8. Ask questions, rather than jumping to conclusions.  If you think the situation they are in might be likely to trigger frustration in your child or if you spot their warning signs, asking discreet questions might either dispel your concerns or activate your early intervention plan, rather than you having to help them recover from a meltdown later.
  9. Patiently explain misunderstandings.  Often, when you are in the habit of asking questions, you will discover that there is a lack of understanding in your child. Explain things patiently and calmly, without laughing at the child or putting them down (which is more easily done than you would think – especially if they express themselves in a super-cute way – and can lead to insecurity in some children).

Isn’t it wonderful how when you write these things down they sound so easy and straightforward!  Since drafting this I have been busy trying to remember to put these ideas into practice myself…today was a better day because of it…

What are your ideas on how to head things off at the pass to help your children avoid frustration?

A joyful heart

A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones.
Proverbs 17:22

The life of a child is like a swing – they seem to go from having the best of fun to total disaster in one quick swoop! One of the challenges as a parent is helping them learn to moderate this roller-coaster of emotions, identify what the important things of life are, and make the choice to have a positive outlook.

My prince is going through a time of particular challenge in this area at the moment. It seems as soon as something doesn’t go the way he would like he reacts as if his world has just come crashing down. I don’t say this in jest – in actual fact it is something I find hard to deal with. It is tough to balance understanding that little things are important to children, with teaching them to respond well to disappointment.

In hopes of encouraging both myself and others, here are seven ideas for dealing with the emotional downs in our children’s lives:

  • A joyful heart is GOOD!

    We love the Steve Green ‘Hide ’em in Your Heart‘ Scriptures songs. One that we often use when one of our kids is feeling down is ‘A Joyful Heart is Good Medicine’. This reminds children that being joyful can work like medicine, making us feel better.

  • Make it a habit to talk about what the most important things in life are – not just when the kids are upset, but also when they are enjoying something. Reinforcing this over and over will – hopefully! – help them learn to let the little things go and keep their minds on the big picture.
  • One of the top ten children’s movies from yesterday’s post was ‘Veggie Tales: Madame Blueberry‘. This teaches the motto that “a thankful heart is a happy heart”. We use this phrase (and accompanying song) from Madame Blueberry to help the kids remember to find things to be thankful for in every situation, and show them how this makes them happy.
  • Take time to acknowledge and understand that things can seem important to children even if they are not important to us adults. Reinforce the idea that sad emotions are okay – but that we must learn to deal with them in the best ways. By making our children feel heard and understood, we will help them to move on towards joy.
  • Something we invented is a ‘blessings walk’ – or a blessings drive, blessings lunch, or whatever else we happen to be doing at the time. When a child is tempted to be sad about something they don’t have, we take turns naming blessings in our lives and pretty soon the discontent disappears.
  • Model appropriate emotions yourself. Kids learn to imitate what the see, so as parents one of our greatest teaching tools is our own behaviour. They say actions speak louder than words, but I think what speaks loudest is actions matching up with words. When we model appropriate ways to deal with disappointment, and a heart focussed on the things that truly matter, our kids will be able to see the good fruit in our lives and be more likely to follow suit.
  • Teach the concept of choosing our emotions. Even as adults this can be tough, as we often think we are at the mercy of our feelings. Training our kids from young that we have a choice about how we feel will set them up for a more positive future.

Seasoned with salt – lessons from my Mom’s roast dinners

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Colossians 4:5-7 (NIV)

I love the imagery used in the passage. Full of grace; Seasoned with salt. It makes me think of my Mom’s home-cooked Sunday roasts. We would come home after church (usually with an eager guest or two) and the scent of potatoes, veggies, meat, Yorkshire puddings and gravy would fill the air as she finished off the final touches of the meal. It was a delicious, comforting, wholesome smell, and the food was always just as good as the anticipation. I think my Mom really IS the best cook in the whole world. But I’m getting side-tracked…

In these three verses of Colossians, the author Paul is referring specifically to the way we talk with people who are not part of the body of Christ. But I would like to take his idea and apply it to the way we talk to our kids. In a way, it’s not too different, because both are in need of experiencing the grace and love of Jesus through the way we talk to them.

Opportunities abound in the life of a parent.

Paul urges Christians here to “make the most of every opportunity”. As parents, we have LOTS of opportunities to witness to our children. We are around our kids a large part of every day, and talk to them often about a myriad of different topics. Because it happens so often, it is easy to forget that these conversations are chances for us to show the wonderful love and grace of Jesus. Unfortunately, it is especially easy to forget this in times of discipline, where it can be most important and have the greatest impact.

We need to be aware (and yes, intentional!) of the way we talk to our kids, and not let these opportunities slip by every day. We also need to be careful that we are not seasoning our conversations with judgement and bitterness instead of grace and salt, as so often happens.

But what is a conversation full of grace and seasoned with salt like? Well, I think it’s a bit like my Mom’s roast dinners…

  • It is wholesome.  It is not rude, inappropriate or unkind. Rather, it is respectful (it is possible to be respectful whilst still being in charge), carefully worded and loving. For example, instead of saying, “I told you to pick that up – do it now!”, we can say “Do you remember that I already asked you to pick that up? You need to remember to listen and obey straight away. Please do it now.”
  • It smells good.  Even though our words don’t have actual smells, they do have a scent in their own kind of way.  Conversations which are full of grace and seasoned with salt will have an overall good smell to them. Our kids will be able to tell that what we are saying is right and true and good, whether we are praising them or disciplining them.
  • It provides nourishment.  Although for the most part I loved my Mom’s roasts, there were occasionally vegetables I wasn’t so keen on. Even these, though, I would usually eat as I knew they were healthy and good for my body. In the same way there might be times we have to say things to our kids that they won’t want to hear.  We need to make sure that at these times we are full of grace and salt, and that we are speaking only to benefit out children, not to vent our anger.
  • It is comforting.  On the other hand, there are also times when our words can be a great source of comfort to our children. Here we can take the opportunity to show our kids the love and peace and joy that can be found in Jesus, no matter what circumstances we are living through.

Mom and me.

I want to end with a thanks to my Mom.

Thanks for your wonderful Sunday roasts, and for the lessons of love you have taught me all my life.  I love you.

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